After Arnold Schwarzenegger’s term as the Governator of California was at an end, it was only a matter of time before he found himself back in front of the camera while various things explode around him, but despite a string of cameos in the first two Expendables movies, it wasn’t until 2013 until he headed a full blown, action movie.
Cue The Last Stand, a quirky neo-western that saw Schwarzenegger as an aging sheriff who stands as the last line of defence as an escaped drugs lord rockets towards his town in an attempt to cross the border into Mexico that boasted an interesting choice in director with South Korean director Kim Jee-woon (I Saw The Devil; The Good, The Bad And The Weird) – but the question had to still be asked: could Arnie still play a convincing action hero at 64, or would the firmer Austrian oak now be a creaking shadow of his former self?
Grizzled, ex-LAPD cop Ray Owens now contents himself keeping the law in the sleepy town of Sommerton Junction where the worst he usually has to deal with is the mayor parking in a fire zone or noise complaints concerning eccentric vintage weapons horder Lewis Dinkum firing off whatever cannon he’s gotten his hands on this time. But the serene mood is about to be smashed thanks to drug lord Gabriel Cortez who pulls of an audacious escape from police custody and hops into a waiting, modified race car that allows to burn his way toward Mexico at speeds of 200mph much to the outrage of rage driven FBI agent John Bannister. His eventual destination is – you guessed it – Sommerton Junction, where the border is in the form of a ravine that Cortez’s hired goons are trying to build a temporary military bridge across before he gets there.
However, their work eventually catches the notice of Ray and his ragtag gang of deputies and before you know it, the town is on the verge of becoming a war zone as plucky Torrence, overweight “Figgy”, impressionable Bailey are joined by a freshly deputized Dinkum (mainly because they need his guns) and PTSD suffering ex-marine Frank Martinez who has recently broke up with Torrence.
What possible chance can this ramshackle defence hope to have while standing against a small army of ruthless mercenaries armed with state of the art weaponry and a swaggering attitude. Well, for one thing, Roy is profoundly fucked off about his day off being ruined and another is that his motley buck up doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit (in Dinkum’s case that very well may be true) – so as Cortez literally races to the finish line, he is blissfully unaware that he’s speeding toward a showdown with a weathered sheriff who hopes to break him with his unbreakable ethics. And some fists.
The Last Stand is a tough movie to judge. Taken on it’s own merits, it’s a fairly enjoyable romp that’s loaded with quirks and tics that contains slick action, a colourful pallet and a moment where the aging hero tackles a baddie off the roof of a building and illogically (but awesomely) blows his brains out on the way down. However, when you take into consideration that this was supposed to be Arnie’s big return to the realm of the action movie, it seems oddly a small scale affair that feels more like an indie curiosity rather than something on the scale of the Terminator franchise.
Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the other, rather bewildering aspect of The Last Stand is that it’s snagged Kim Jee-woon for directing duties and you have to wonder what enticed the director of such searing works as I Saw The Devil, A Tale Of Two Sisters and A Bittersweet Life to make, was essentially is, a middle drawer American action comedy. Maybe it’s because saw the Western parallels in a story about a sheriff holding the line against an army of hired guns and fancied reliving the rootin’, tootin’ experience of The Good, The Bad And The Weird, but, at the risk of sounding snobby, it just seems like an odd transition.
Regardless, he certainly gives it an original feel, blowing up the colours to it almost Wizard Of Oz levels to match the kookiness of the characters and the vaguely cartoonish feel takes the edge off some graphic violence.
Arnie, finally free to stretch his legs in a role that doesn’t involving frantically mugging in a seven minutes cameo, actually shines as the grumpy sheriff who’s seen some shit and simply just wants to settle down and this marked a notice shift in his career as the more age appropriate roles he was now playing allowed him to squeeze some legitimately interesting performances around that iconic accent. He’s given endering support from a recognisable cast of established character actors that contains the likes of Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Genesis Rodriguez and Peter Stormare (Christ, even the late, great, Harry Dean Stanton pops up at one point to cuss and moan), but the script ends up being the kind that gives everyone exactly the same sense of humour so the only things that actually differentiates the characters is the casting.
Another weird thing about the movie is that none of its sub-plots actually manage to coalesce with threads involving Whitaker’s fuming Fed and Rodriguez’s “capture” never really having any real effect on the main story (Ray and Cortez literally have no face to face contact whatsoever until their final reel fisticuffs) and feels noticably like padding for the main thrust of the tale which is, if we’re being honest, is not much more than a feature length prep for the climatic gunfight.
Anyway, I feel like I’ve been harsh enough, picking holes in, what is essentially, a fun, knockabout action comedy and despite all the issues I’ve just mentioned, none of them stop The Last Stand being a genuinely fun, if instantly disposable, showdown flick with Arnie showing he’s still got the good as he one-handed fires guns that are longer than one of my legs and aquits himself nicely in a final act fist fight with a man roughly half his age. The violence, while initially surprising in its graphic nature (one guy gets his grey matter sprayed all over the roof of a school bus which is the last of a string of satisfyingly old school head shots), ultimately fits the exaggerated reality Kim Jee-woon is shooting for here and the sight of Schwarzenegger peppering badguys with fire from a vintage, Vickers machine gun mounted on the back of a school bus brings back warm feelings of previous bursts of Arnold related weapon worship of old.
A return to Arnie’s glory days, then? Of course not, but that’s not to say The Last Stand is a total write off, but once the credits roll, you’ll find the events of this enjoyable romp are harder for you to recollect than one of the movie’s surviving henchman as they struggle to shake off a career-ending concussion.
Undeniably a giggle, but The Last Stand won’t exactly bring you to your feet…