Arnold Schwarzenegger once promised us that he’d be back. Well, he has delivered on that promise. Over nine years since he last headlined an action film (‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines‘), Arnold is back with top billing in ‘The Last Stand’. Does he still have same chops and draw that he did a decade ago? With a paint-by-numbers plot and a 65-year-old Schwarzenegger, you might fear the worst. However, while a bit slow in the beginning, the R-rated film takes off with huge action beats and a plethora of violence, mixed with a bit of comedy. It’s a lot of fun to watch and a decent return for Schwarzenegger.
Before viewing the movie, I wondered whether the former Terminator’s age would force him into the backseat for a new action flick. Sure, we’ve seen some older actors such as Clint Eastwood or Tommy Lee Jones take on action roles, but Schwarzenegger was always more physical than them. With Korean director Kim Jee-woon (‘A Tale of Two Sisters’) at the helm, Arnold proves that he still has the chops to handle guns, jump through windows and fight bad guys. However, unlike his movies from the ’80s and ’90s, it takes him a bit longer to brush off injuries after taking a few blows to the body, which feels slightly more realistic. Even when he jumps through a glass window, he says the famous “I’m too old for this” line, to which another character says, “No, you still got plenty years left in you.” It’s laughable, as we’ve been force-fed that joke, but that’s what the whole movie feels like.
This is Kim’s first feature for America and it stars one of the biggest actors in history. On top of that, it’s Schwarzenegger’s first comeback attempt in over a decade. Rather than make a film with depth, it’s more of a welcome-back party for the former Mr. Universe. Now, I’ve seen a few of Kim’s movies, most recently his ‘I Saw the Devil‘, which is amazing. However, with ‘The Last Stand’, the director ditches the suspense or tense situations and just goes for the action. It has no build up.
Schwarzenegger plays Sheriff Ray Owen, a once-heroic cop from Los Angeles who has moved to a small rural desert town in Arizona where life is slow and sweet, and where one of the biggest crimes is double parking. A few hundred miles north in Las Vegas, big bad Mexican cartel leader Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) is being transported to another prison by FBI agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker). As you can imagine, things go awry, and Cortez escapes with one of the female FBI agents as his hostage (Genesis Rodriguez) in a Corvette ZR1, which has more than 1000 horsepower and can go over 200 mph.
Cortez has planned an elaborate escape to Mexico, and has hired dozens of minions to help clear the roads from police or roadblocks along his trek. Unfortunately for him, Sheriff Owen’s town just happens to be right on the border of the U.S. and Mexico where Cortez plans to make his crossing. Once the Sheriff finds out about the bad guy heading his way, he enlists the help of his deputies Figgie (Luiz Guzman), Sarah (Jaimie Alexander) and Jerry (Zach Gilford), along with decent citizen Frank (Rodrigo Santoro, a.k.a. Xerxes from ‘300’), who happens to be in jail. Luckily, town idiot Lewis (Johnny Knoxville) has a collection of weapons ranging from a replica of Conan’s sword to a 1939 Vickers machine gun (that he calls the “Nazi Killer”) and everything in between.
Most of the film is a car chase, with a final act that’s a standoff in the rural town. Kim’s visual style seems to have no smooth transitions from one scene to another, and like I said above, the movie doesn’t have one ounce of suspense. Instead, it goes straight from one action beat to the next. However, there’s something oddly beautiful and cool about watching a Corvette and a new Camaro race through a cornfield. One of my favorite moments, and the one I laughed at the most, comes during the final battle between Arnold and Noriega, in which they just use their fists and bodies to try to kill each other. This final fight is basically a steel cage match in the vein of WWE, complete with larger-than-life suplexes, grappling holds, brutal takedowns and closelines.
Guzman and Knoxville provide all of the comedy here, as Guzman plays an all-to-willing deputy, while Knoxville seems to be an amped-up version of himself from ‘Jackass’. Whitaker phones in his performance as the FBI agent, but proves as always that he’s still a good actor.
And then we have Schwarzenegger. Although he’s just five years from 70, Arnold still sells and delivers the goods, just with a little more caution now. He has a bit of acting rust from being out of the business for so long, but I bet it’ll be gone by his next film.
‘The Last Stand’ is a fun movie if taken with a grain of salt, and it’s truly great to have Schwarzenegger killing bad guys once again.