The Last Stand is a lot of fun. Surprisingly so. A lot of the credit for that has to go to Korean import Jee-woon Kim, director of the fantastic I Saw the Devil and the fun but overhyped The Good, The Bad, and the Weird. There’s an energy to the movie that is unlike what has coursed through many in recent memory. There’s also a weirdness to it. The tempo is different. The fancy camera moves and edits don’t seem as generic or showy but rather engineered to most maintain the tone of the film and create a foothold for The Last Stand to work its magic. It’s a small foothold. With all the good stuff in the film it still is a rather minor action flick, but it’s just what the doctor ordered in January from a star many of us had fully given up on. Arnold Schwarzenegger, by the way.
Arnold plays the sheriff of a tiny border town. His crew includes two attractive young cops and the misshapen Cro-Magnon legend Luis Guzman. They have nothing to worry about most of the time as their little hamlet rarely has much more than a little fistfight to contend with. The sheriff has a history back in the big city having faced much more dangerous crooks in much more violent situations, which is good because a Pablo Escobar-esque drug kingpin has escaped federal incarceration and is hauling ass down the turnpike towards the border in a souped up Corvette ZR-1 right towards him. Yes. The villain of this story is a drug kingpin who is also a race car driver. That’s the lunacy of the plot and why it’s very difficult for people to pick this film apart as opposed to many of the overly serious action films that seem to recoil away from the careless fun that made actors like Arnold millionaires. It’s fun. Ridiculous, but fun.
Another wise choice is to focus a good portion of the film away from Arnold’s sheriff and his generic cronies. The film plays dead serious as Forrest Whitaker’s federal agents lose their quarry to a high tech (ridiculous but SERIOUS ridiculous) escape. The film spends time with the hammy Peter Stormare as he builds a method of escape for the villain. The film allows for other subplots to develop and it allows the moments with our heroes to stick out more. It prohibits Arnold from wearing out his welcome or being forced into cracking bad jokes to fill space. There’s some of that but there’s also a nice bit of warmth to the character. By trimming the one liners back and giving his Sheriff Owens a fatherly bent Schwarzenegger gets to act a little. And make fun of his age a little. It works.
Colorful characters fill the margins so when there’s some comic relief needed Johnny Knoxville’s weapons freak fills the space or Guzman will do something wacky or an old lady with a large gun steps in. The balance is interesting and though it’s all gratuitously commercial it is extremely effective.
The villains are plentiful and Eduardo Noriega does a good job at being the entitled and indulgent bad guy. Bodies fall at an astronomical rate and only when a dramatic beat is required does a casualty carry weight but Kim never loses sight of the prize and Arnold’s big comeback flat out works. It’s not utterly memorable but it has the kind of playful demeanor that only helps over the long haul and in the January/February doldrums this works like a charm. It’s not a classic but it’s a whole lotta fun and there’s plenty of mayhem and profanity to warrant the R rating.
Welcome back Arnold.
Sly or Arnold? Who’s escaped the 80’s with a better rep?
Why choose? They both serve different veiny, roided, subtlety free food groups. Actually they serve the absolute same food group but even though the food is stale it still tastes pretty good.
Is Jee-Woon Kim ready for prime time?
Undoubtedly. His skill permeates the action and the drama exceptionally well and though this is a rather over-the-top affair he is worth a whole bathroom of Len Wisemans.
Are there any victims of weaponry mayhem to compete with Kim Coates in Black Hawk Down?
Funny you should mention that…
How as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body held up over the years?
He’s sixty-something years old, who gives a rat’s gigantic muscled rat arm? The man could still ruin your day with his hands and sometimes it’s better not to know what a man is packing under the shirt. He still looks like Arnold and since his idol is Clint Eastwood he’s following the man’s path well. If he returns as Conan and starts barking rhetoric at his empty throne all bets are off.
How has Forrest Whitaker’s body held up over the years?
Oh GOD YES.
The Best Scene in the Movie that involves Harry Dean Stanton?
He’s on a tractor. And then he isn’t.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Nick On… Is my new ongoing movie review column. The goal is to distill things a little and make it a little more playful and easier to digest rather than the long form. Hope you like. Please let me know what you think as there will be many of these coming and the goal always is to improve. Please share and whatnot.