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Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his long-awaited Action Hero comeback with “The Last Stand”, an old school action romp that knows exactly what it is, what its aims are, and most important of all, who its star is — as well as his strengths and limitations. As a result, fans of Schwarzenegger and old school action won’t have very much to complain about when they plop down their hard-earned bucks to watch “The Last Stand”. As a bonus, the film also features the Hollywood directorial debut of acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon, responsible for International hits “I See the Devil” and “A Tale of Two Sisters”, among many others.
“The Last Stand” finds Schwarzenegger playing Ray Owens, the grizzled Sheriff of a small Arizona town. How small? It basically has two streets. A main street and, uh, another street. Ray, a former L.A. narcotics cop who retired after a job went bad, has it pretty good. His biggest worries include locking up the drunk ex-boyfriend of one of his deputies, keeping another deputy from shooting his own foot, and making sure people don’t park in fire zones. Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a movie if that’s all Ray had to worry about. Unbeknownst to Ray, a notorious Mexican drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) has escaped from a Vegas jail and is headed straight for him. The reckless bugger intends to show off the FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) chasing him by, literally, driving straight into Mexico in a souped up Corvette. At least, that’s the plan.
“The Last Stand” works a hell of a lot better than it has any right to, thanks to a script that seems tailor made for Schwarzenegger. The film is pretty funny in parts, with Ray saddled with a local weirdo played by the king of jackass Johnny Knoxville. Luis Guzman is a reluctant deputy who never does anything without griping about it first, while “Friday Night Light’s” Zach Gilford plays a Deputy anxious to get some real action. Needless to say, the young buck finally gets what he’s been craving when Noriega sends a small army of paramilitary mercs led by Peter Stormare to town to pave the way for his grand escape. The always watchable Stormare is a blast onscreen, here affecting some kind of Southern accent that frankly I don’t know if it’s supposed to be part of his character or if Stormare just thought it would be fun to play the character as slightly off. And no one does “slightly off” better than Peter Stormare.
Here’s a suggestion: don’t take the kids to see “The Last Stand”. That’s one of the ways the film harkens back to Schwarzenegger’s glory days. When the shooting starts, things get pretty violent, and the bullets fly pretty early and often. The bad guys have come loaded for bear, brandishing a ridiculous amount of firepower against Ray’s little band of brothers. There is plenty of action throughout the film, and Kim Jee-woon doesn’t shy away from the carnage. As with Stallone and his “Expendables” films, the violence in “The Last Stand”can get pretty ridiculous at times. I kid you not, at least two bad guys are cut in half my machinegun fire. But as per usual in these movies, though the good guys get their fair share of bullet wounds, it’s never really life-threatening. There are jokes to be had as a result of those wounds, after all.
“The Last Stand” doesn’t offer up anything you haven’t seen before, of course. It’s “High Noon” by way of “The Expendables”, and the plot is fairly predictable. It’s your classic hero in white hat and bad guy in souped up Corvette story. As you probably guessed, the Feds are pretty useless throughout, though watching Forest Whitaker grumbling threats and shooting death rays at people with his eyes can be pretty amusing. The film does go on for a little longer than it really should, with a drawn out car chase in a field and a bridge fistfight that — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — feels a bit superfluous. And because Ray has no love interest (a smart move, if you ask me), the film’s only stab at romance belongs to “Thor’s” Jaimie Alexander, playing one of Ray’s Deputies, and “300’s” Rodrigo Santoro as her ex-Marine, well, ex. The two have some nice moments.
“The Last Stand” is a damn brilliant comeback vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Honestly, I don’t think he could have jumpstarted his return to big screen hero duty any better. Arnold’s fans will get the most out of the film, but general action fans won’t have too much to moan about either. The movie is actually a lot funnier than I had expected, with some really off-the-wall moments (such as a shotgun packing granny) that brought the house down. But again, the R-rating isn’t a joke — “The Last Stand” is pretty damn violent and definitely earns its rating. This is old school action movie filmmaking at its best, and makes for a highly effective re-introduction to Arnold Schwarzenegger The Action Movie Star. He’s off to a pretty good start.
Kim Jee-woon (director) / Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff (screenplay)
CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger … Ray Owens
Peter Stormare … Burrell
Johnny Knoxville … Lewis Dinkum
Luis Guzmán … Mike Figuerola
Jaimie Alexander … Sarah Torrance
Rodrigo Santoro … Frank Martinez
Forest Whitaker … Agent John Bannister
Genesis Rodriguez … Agent Ellen Richards
Daniel Henney … Agent Phil Hayes
Eduardo Noriega … Gabriel Cortez