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The Last Stand (2013)

January 22, 2013

thelaststandposter

 

written by: Andrew Knauer and Jeffrey Nachmanoff

produced by: Lorenzo di Bonaventura

directed by: Kim Ji-woon

rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout and langauge) 

runtime: 107 min.

U.S. release date: January 18, 2012

 

Well he always said he’d be back and now he is. It’s been ten years since Arnold Schwarzenegger headlined a movie (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”, if you need a memory jog) having spent his action hero muscle in political battles as the Governator and caught in TMZ headlines. At 65, he may be older and slower, but he still knows how to get back to business as usual in “The Last Stand”, helmed by cult-favorite Korean director Kim Ji-woon. It’s an action movie with a sense of humor, packed with knockout babes (for some reason) and an arsenal of bloody violence. This is a welcome return for Arnold fans, but one in which they should accept where the actor is at in life. Once that’s acknowledged and you’re settled in, you can have a fun time.

Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the dedicated lawman of Sommerton Junction in Arizona, a desert town bordering Mexico. He’s looking forward to a quiet weekend off, anticipating very little activity in a town where just about everyone has left to go cheer the school’s football team five hours away. Meanwhile, up in Las Vegas, the FBI are transferring Mexican cartel leader Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) into protective custody. But the dangerous criminal’s crew pull off a ballsy rescue, involving a magnetic crane and a zip line, that infuriates led Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker, who stares at flat screens and spins around with a gape-mouthed expression) and forces him into search and recapture mode. They learn that Noriega has stolen a jacked-up Corvette (that can reach 200 mph), kidnapped FBI Agent Richards (Genesis Rodriguez, “Casa de mi Padre”) and is rocketing his way to Mexico where his gang members (led by a typically unhinged Peter Stormare) are clearing a path for him.

 

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Back in Sommerton, things aren’t as low-key as Sheriff Owens thought it would be. If Owens’ hunch is right, it has something to do with a call he just received from Bannister about the escapee heading his way. Owens knows it’s up to him and his deputies, including the adventure-seeking Bailey (Zach Gilford), the loyal Torrance (Jaimie Alexander) and the rotund Figuerola (Luis Guzman, providing comic relief), to take a stand and stop Cortez and his crew from going anywhere. He also knows that he’s probably the only guy in his town who knows what kind of violence is coming their way, due to his past in L.A. narcotics. Knowing the inexperience of those around him, Owens releases Frank (Rodrigo Santoro, “300”) a former Semper Fi from jail and recruits Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville, even more comic relief) a nutjob with a mini-museum of artillery, deputizing them both. Though still outnumbered, Owens and company may have the advantage that Cortez and his gang have no idea what to expect from these small-town folk.

There’s no need to examine “The Last Stand” for anything more than what it is: an old-fashioned action flick combined with Western sensibilities, glossed with a coat of modern bloodshed. That’s not everyone’s bag, but for those (like me) who grew up on ‘Ahnuld’ in his heyday, this is a fun time, especially if you get a kick out of seeing some sexagenarian action. Schwarzenegger and Stallone seem like they’ll be in front of the camera until they drop dead. They’re clearly not going anywhere, which may be disappointing for some, but I’m all for it.

Watching Schwarzenegger inhabit the role of Owens is fun. The skin on his face is both tight and wrinkly (probably a combination of natural and, ahem, “other” causes), but it makes sense for a guy living in the desert. The action legend thankfully plays a character who uses his instinct and experience first, instead of going in guns blazing (something Stallone still does, bless him). The requisite one-liners are still present, but it’s more hokey charm than cheesy machismo. When the scenes do call for action, his aim is steady, but he’s often out-of-breath and limping his way to safety. Still, you wouldn’t want to be staring at the barrel of any gun he’s holding, backed by his steely gaze.

 

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As the bad guys, Noriega and Stormare are fine but act too cool and lack real menace, so at least we have a motley crew of fun supporting actors to surround Schwarzenegger. Knoxville can play a Murdock-type gun-nut in his sleep, but seeing him next to Schwarzenegger is surreal silliness. There are times where it literally feels like the Austrian actor does a double-take at the comedian’s antics.  Of the other actors, I found it great to see Alexander and her killer eyebrows (and she has me looking forward to her return as Sif in the “Thor” sequel, later this year, even more) take down some scumbags, as well as Santoro create a little something for himself out of a thin character arc.

It goes without saying that no one signed up for this to flex their acting muscles. This is all about high-octane speed, endless ammo and making it out alive with some flesh wounds – or, just a few scratches for the lovely brunettes in the movie.

As much as I’m satisfied by the movie that officially welcomes Schwarzenegger back to the big-screen (he’s already got two in the can and five others lined-up), I’m also kind of disappointed. I had expected that we’d get something as dark and violent as the material Kim Ji-woon (or Jee-Woon Kim, same guy either way) is known for based on some of his previous films, like “A Tale of Two Sisters” and “I Saw the Devil”. But I have an idea what happened on the way to the masses. For his American debut, Kim was teamed up with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (the guy who’s brought toys like Transformers and G.I. Joe to the big screen) who knows what kind of humor and action audiences would be expecting for Schwarzenegger’s return.

 

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Just imagine though if “The Last Stand” offered a more complex character for Ahnuld to play. Someone who was tortured by his past and is still quite capable to dispense some rough justice but is crippled by failures, self-doubt and fear. Someone who has to deal with villains that are far from stereotypical or cartoonish, but rather a very real threat that, someone vile and sadistic both mentally and in their actions. I shudder to think just how far Kim could’ve taken that kind of material, but that line of thought also excites me. It certainly doesn’t sound like a movie that would have room for Johnny Knoxville though. So, this may not have the intensity, the twisted depravity and creative style that Kim’s other films have had, but I can’t fault him for giving audiences what they want.

I’d wager that one of Kim’s other film’s “The Good, the Bad, the Weird”, a crazy spaghetti western homage, landed him the gig, since what newcomer Andrew Knauer essentially wrote, along with Jeffrey Nachmanoff (writer/director of “Traitor”), is basically an update on many classic Westerns. “The Last Stand” has that same kind of humor intact. There are obvious jokes about Owens age, some are subtle and some are hitting us upside the head with a 2X4. We get it –  Ahnuld is “Ould” (as Owens says in the movie), calcified and needs help getting up after a climactic wrestling match with a guy half his age. All that makes sense to me.

“The Last Stand” is one of those “it is what it is” movies. You know what you’re going to get going in. Some may find it corny – and for that I can tell you that the corvette vs. corvette corn field chase is awesome. What more can I say? It’s undoubtedly not going to be the best action movie out there this year, but it also doesn’t care whatsoever about any of that. It’s a satisfying way to kick off both a new moviegoing year and the resurrection of an action icon.

 

thelaststandahnuld

 

RATING: ***

 

 

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