The Last Stand Review By Adam
If anyone on this planet was awaiting The Last Stand, it was me. I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger-obsessed. I mean, reading-his-biography-as-I-write-this obsessed (which is a half-decent, straight shooting read, if you wanted to know). Some would question my anticipation, and I don’t blame them: even Arnie aficionados know that he hasn’t made a great film since 1994’s True Lies. But despite the almost two decade dry spell, I still have hope. I have hope because when he fires on all cylinders, Arnie makes glorious cinema (zero irony). While The Last Stand isn’t a freckle on the backside of his James Cameron collaborations, it isn’t a flaming piece of shit either. In fact, The Last Stand is wacky fun, and often offers up what we want from the Austrian Oak: gratuitous violence, droll one-liners and bona fide movie star charisma.
The Last Stand follows grizzled Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as he patrols the peaceful town of Summerton Junction. Summerton Junction is such a quiet place that Ray’s only concern is if someone puts full-cream milk in his coffee. But Ray’s idealistic small town gets a shake-up when a bunch of scumbags (led by cinematic uber-creep Peter Stormare) start paving the way for their boss, escaped drug tzar Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), to cross through Summerton Junction and over the Mexican border. Cortez is in possession of a sexy Corvette that belongs in James Bond’s garage (it has night vision!), and the feds — led by a sweaty Forest Whitaker — can’t catch him. In a last ditch attempt, the feds inform Owens that hell is on its way, but the feds and the crooks ( and pretty much anyone else except the actual audience) have underestimated just how much of a badass Sheriff Owens is. Owens gathers a rag tag bunch of deputies (including a lisping Luis Guzman and a maniacal Johnny Knoxville) and fortifies Summerton Junction for the titular last stand.
Straight off the bat: The Last Stand is no masterpiece. While it may not reach the cinematic badassery of Total Recall, Predator or Terminator 2 (the best action film ever made, period), Last Stand has a better balance of the classic Arnold staples than anything in the last twenty years: Eraser was second-rate, The 6Th Day was hamstrung by a pussy rating, End of Days and Collateral Damage were too dour and the less said about Terminator 3 the better. The Last Stand has comedy (‘Yoh’ve bin dipyootized!’), violence (Arnie cuts a guy in half with a mini gun) and it continues the cinematic tradition of making Arnie a larger than life, mythic character (just try not to laugh with joy when you see him standing on a bridge, handcuffs in hand). Modern action films have a dreadful habit of being bloodless (Taken 2) or taking their stupid shit too seriously (Battleship), so it’s refreshing to watch a film that wants to be nothing more than a blood-soaked accompaniment to beer and pizza.
Korean director Kim Ji-woon (I Saw the Devil) knows that he isn’t going to get Shakespearean actors to support his mountainous leading man (though it should be noted that Arnie has played Hamlet…in Last Action Hero), so instead he opts for the most motley crew available. It might sound boggling on the page, but it works a treat onscreen. We have the stunningly beautiful, yet utterly righteous Sarah (a solid Jamie Alexander), the eager to please dweeb, Jerry (an endearing Zach Gilford), the hungover dreamboat/ex-marine, Frank (Rodrigo Santoro aka Xerxes from 300), the tubby pacifist, Mike (Luis Guzman), and the unhinged, local gun nut Lewis (Johnny Knoxville). All of the supporting cast (wisely) play to their strengths (even Knoxville’s shtick works here). Once the gang are all united there is a palatable sense of comraderie. The team on the other side of the narrative (the jailbreak) is less successful. Forest Whitaker has the cranky bureaucrat down pat, but Eduardo Noriega fails to convince as the chief villain. He plays Cortez like Olympic-level eurotrash and comes off more like a potential date rapist – he has more chance of slipping something in Arnold’s schnapps than taking the former Mr Universe on mano-a-mano. It’s a damn shame, because the film already has a great, slimy, character actor in its stable. A guy who makes snuff films (8mm), took Tom Cruise’s eyes (Minority Report), fed Steve Buscemi into a woodchipper (Fargo) and even played Lucifer (Constantine): Mr Peter Stormare! Though he is pretty great as is (any Stormare is better than no Stormare).
While director Kim Ji-woon makes escapist fun the order of the day, he also has a keen cinematic sensibility. Many sequences impress, and more often than not they contain Cortez’s super-charged Corvette – especially an inventive chase set in a dense cornfield. Ji-woon’s camera swerves with the action, often putting us front and centre – some shots are so close to the action that we witness projectiles (assumedly) destroying cameras. Some of Arnie’s fans (those of lowered cinematic patience) may be annoyed that Ji-woon takes his time setting up the characters, but they need to be chill: once he pulls the ripcord, the film (and body parts) soars.
So far, The Last Stand has made fuck all at the international box office (it looks like it’s going to be Arnold’s lowest grosser ever) and that is a travesty. Arnold has been in some trash (Around the World in 80 Days springs to mind) but The Last Stand shouldn’t be heaped onto that pile. If the Expendables (and its superior sequel) scratched your bloodthirsty itch (they did mine), check out The Last Stand, because despite being 65 years of age, Arnie’s still got it.