Film Review – The Last Stand
The more I think about it, the more I come to the realization that Arnold Schwarzenegger may be the most charismatic movie star ever. This is a guy who has obvious limitations as an actor, whose dialogue is made up of corny one-liners, and who is known more for his physique than his range. He’s approaching seventy years of age and it shows. But somehow, The Austrian Oak is able to curb all of these problems with the sheer influence of his screen presence. We can’t take our eyes off of him; he fills each role with enthusiasm and energy. This is why he is believable despite the thick accent. He clearly knows his strengths and weaknesses, and exploits both for his own benefit. The Last Stand (2013) once again shows what the man can do best: kick ass and take names.
Sure, this isn’t the same guy he used to be. If you’re looking for the person who played Conan and The Terminator, you’ll be disappointed. This Schwarzenegger is lined and aged, and is a bit slower, but seems to be having as much fun as he always has. Here he plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of Sommerton Junction, a small dusty town along the border of the U.S. and Mexico. It’s a quiet neighborhood where everybody knows everybody else by first name, and where the biggest commotion happens when a cat gets stuck in a tree. This kind of low-key lifestyle is perfect for our protagonist. He had a lifetime of action and adventure, and has seen enough violence to last the rest of his days. Ray would much rather lounge around in his slip-on shoes, drinking beer and enjoying his time off work. How long do you think this peaceful serenity will last?
Ray’s day off gets a shot of adrenaline when he gets a call from FBI agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker). Bannister informs Ray that the drug cartel leader Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has escaped custody in Las Vegas and is heading straight for him and the border. Cortez is a shrewd operator. He plans each move precisely, making sure his escape is as clean as possible. Even before Cortez gets to town, he sends a number of his lackeys (including Peter Stormare in his usual “weird bad guy” role) to shoot a path for him. Well, despite Cortez’s detailed strategizing, he never anticipated having to deal with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Accompanied by a handful of gun-toting townsfolk, including deputy Figuerola (Luis Guzman) and the village idiot Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), Ray hunkers down to make sure the criminal doesn’t escape from the authorities.
If you’ve read this far into the review, then my guess is you’re at least a little bit interested in this movie. I’ll say this: it was more entertaining than I had anticipated it might be. Director Jee-woon Kim (of 2010’s I Saw The Devil fame) knows what kind of material he’s working with. This isn’t an action movie to be taken seriously, and that is why there is a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor going on. Schwarzenegger is as amazed at what is happening on screen as we are, as if he were saying “watch me get away with this.” His screen persona has not aged, and even though he isn’t the young man he once was, everything he does comes off as believable (within context, of course). The film hops along briskly and has a fairly streamlined narrative. This is a good thing. If it had even attempted to be something a little more, it would have fallen apart. Obviously, we’re not looking for deep character development; what we want is some nice action scenes. Kim provides just enough to satisfy us, with one taking place in the town square and another (creatively) set within a cornfield.
There are some strange casting choices. Forest Whitaker seems to come from an entirely different movie. I think he is a fine actor, but I wonder if he was the right person for the role. As everyone else is having fun, he approaches his character seriously. Every time we cut to him, the tone shifts. An even stranger casting choice is Johnny Knoxville, who very nearly sinks the entire movie himself. What makes Arnold Schwarzenegger so interesting is that he is magnetic without even trying. Knoxville, on the other hand, strains so hard to be entertaining that it feels insincere. His jokes are just not funny, which is a shame, seeing how he is anointed the main comedic relief. Jackass ended years ago, but Knoxville appears to be content with the same kind of screwball antics he’s always been known for.
Well, what else is there to say? The Last Stand is one of those movies you begin to forget about as soon as you walk out of it. However, it does make for a somewhat satisfying killer of time. It’s violent, funny, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Nice to see Schwarzenegger finally back in the action saddle.
Final Grade: B-