It makes sense that Jee-woon Kim’s first film for an American studio is a film like The Last Stand. Previously, he has probably been most well known for his “Eastern Western,” The Good, The Bad and The Weird. Set in turn of the century Mongolia, it borrowed heavily from lots of Western tropes, both Hollywood and Spaghetti, ran through an Asian filter.
The classic American action movie, originating in the 70s and going full-bore in the 80s, borrowed a lot from those films as well, the tropes being fully acknowledged with dialogue from Die Hard in which Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber refers to John McClane as a cowboy, raised on John Wayne and the like. “Roy Rogers, actually,” McClane states before uttering his infamous “Yippie Kai Aye [expletive deleted]” call that would follow him through the franchise to come.
Like John Woo’s American breakthrough, Broken Arrow, Kim makes his debut with a straight-up action flick set in the open spaces of the American southwest, centering in and around an Arizona border town. The Sheriff of this town is the newly evacuated ex-governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first starring role since returning to acting. (We won’t count the Expendables films, obviously.)
What’s good about The Last Stand is also what’s bad about it. There is no pretension in the film. There’s not much winking at the audience. Arnold thankfully doesn’t make jokes about being back. It’s got a seemingly Rio Bravo-esque slam bang finale that makes up for a good part of the running time being uninspired. Schwarzenegger’s character balances his responsibilities as a lawman with his devotion to his underlings and his desire to protect his town. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film, but there’s nothing new here. There’s not a twist on the formula or any kind of an attempt to show anything in a new light. The story follows structure so rigidly that it may as well be mainlining Viagra. At one point, we know a character is doomed when he requests a transfer to get more action in his life. I’d call it a spoiler, but it’s so obvious, everyone who’s ever seen a movie of this type has to know it’s coming. On the plus side, it’s nice to see an action movie that doesn’t require dramamine due to overuse of shakycam. It looks pretty darn good.
The performances, including those from such usual standouts as Forrest Whittaker, seem to be on autopilot. Luis Guzman deserves the statue of him that’s kept at Greendale Community College (shoutout to my fellow Community fans), but he’s not exactly expanding his range. Johnny Knoxville remains eminently likable, but he’s going by the numbers. And Arnold remains Arnold, but this time making some cracks about his age, as if he is performing in a sequel in which one of his shoot ’em up characters from the 80s retired to the middle of nowhere and is now thrust back into action. While watching the film, one can picture clearly the screenwriter typing and erasing, “I’m getting too old for this sh*t” over and over again, the desire to put it in almost overwhelming him. The one person that seems to be getting to flex their muscles is Jamie Alexander, getting to do more than she did as Lady Sif in Thor. But not a ton more. Oh, and Harry Dean Stanton puts in yet another great cameo.
In another seeming throwback to thirty years ago, the villain is a sneering, violent drug kingpin for whom, to quote Joe Carnahan’s A-Team, “Overkill is underrated.” After a rather crafty escape from federal custody, he slips into a modified Corvette that can go 200 miles per hour. Luckily for this hombre, he is not just an entitled jerk, but a pro race car driver that can perform all sorts of crazy car fu that actually seems to have mostly been done with real cars. (If it was CG, than I as a non-car enthusiast did not notice any huge, exposed seams.)
Why no one thinks to put up any spike strips to blow his tires, I do not know. Aside from the fact that the movie could possibly be a lot shorter.
As he tries to cross the border, the local law finds themselves the last line of defense to keep the the creep from escaping to Mexico where it is apparently assumed that the Federales have no interest in curtailing him.
Along the way there’s gunplay, yelling on the phone and a lot of CGI gunshots that I can ofter the faint praise of looking better than the ones in the afore-mentioned Expendables. All in all, it’s a solid, if underwhelming, actioner; good for a rental so one can assess the novelty value of ol’ man Arnold teaming up with Asian directors come abroad.
(Two and a half out of five stars)