Theatrical Review: The Last Stand

Ray Owens, a former LAPD officer, is now the Sheriff of the sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction, Arizona. He’s content with his life there, it’s quiet and even with his inexperienced staff, the peace is kept. Unbeknownst to Ray, Gabriel Cortez, a notorious Mexican drug cartel kingpin has just escaped captivity by the FBI. Cortez now speeds across the land in souped-up Corvette to jump the border to Mexico, crossing across a bridge that has been built past Sommerton Junction. Now Ray, his staff and a couple of other volunteers are the only thing that stands in their way.

That’s the premise to The Last Stand and with the exception of his co-starring appearances in The Expendables movies, marks Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to leading in a big-ass action film after 10 years away. This is also the latest movie form Korean director Jee-woon Kim, who’s known for such films as The Good, the Bad, the Weird and I saw the Devil neither of which I’ve seen, but I certainly hear good stuff about them. I’m certainly a fan of Schwarzenegger’s and was very much looking forward to seeing this, and it is indeed a lot of fun, but don’t think too much about it.

What Jee-woon Kim has crafted here, at least to me anyway, reminds me a little bit of the movie Shoot ‘Em Up with Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci and Paul Giamatti and was this sort of mash-up of big over-the-top action film with Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoons. Now I know that might sound a little insulting, and it’s not meant that way. But when you see a side scene of an old woman sitting in her shop quietly as all hell is breaking loose outside, and a mysterious gunman breaks in and then the same old woman pulls out a big gun and blasts him through her window… well I don’t know how you can think of this any other way.

Now I’ll take that even further, with so much of an international sort of cast here and their, let’s say “colorful” use of the English language and with Jackass front man Johnny Knoxville in a supporting role, I could almost hear Mel Blanc doing voice work for this if it was a cartoon (or the very least Ralph Garman doing his best Schwarzenegger impression- and you should all listen to Garman on the Hollywood Babble On podcast and watch Spike TV’s newest iteration of the excellent The Joe Schmo Show – sorry for the digression). None of this is meant to be taken seriously at all, just sit back, enjoy the ride and wallow in it’s big over-the-top style.

And speaking of style, Jee-woon Kim certainly has plenty of it- the film looks fantastic and the action scenes are extremely well done and very easy to follow. Kim knows when to pull his camera back and give you a big picture as well getting right up into the action and making you “feel” it.

It is good to see Schwarzenegger back leading a film. Yeah, he’s certainly gotten older and a little smaller, but he still knows how to command a scene and with this movie anyway, he’s also plenty generous to his ensemble of support. Jaime Alexander, Luis Guzmán and Zach Gilford all play the sheriff’s deputies and they all get their moments to shine. Rodrigo Santoro plays a former boyfriend of Alexander’s who joins up with the sheriff, and he certainly gets a few good action moments. I mentioned Johnny Knoxville above, and Knoxville plays a gun “entrepreneur” and certainly provides even more comic relief to the film. Further with Knoxville, he genuinely looks like he’s having the time of his life with this as well.

Also in the cast, Forest Whitaker plays the FBI agent who’s handling the Cortez situation, and he certainly helps to ground things, though just for a bit. Eduardo Noriega plays Cortez and like Knoxville, looks like he’s just eating this part up. Peter Stormare plays Cortez’s right-hand man in Sommerton Junction, and certainly adds the right amount of smarminess and odd sort of threat to the part. And even veteran character actor Harry Dean Stanton gets in on things as the farmer who owns the land Cortez’s crew is looking to use (and as a side note, I saw Broken City this past weekend as well- Griffin Dunne is in the film and I almost thought he was a younger version of Harry Dean Stanton at first sight- sorry, digressed again for just a moment).

The Last Stand is a terrific little comeback piece for Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as being a nice little show piece for Jee-won Kim’s visual skills. It’s a big-ass 80s-esque action cartoon that’s hard not to like as long as you’re not going in and expecting this thing to be as grim and dark as possible. Schwarzenegger does show his age, but he’s also solid enough to know that and play with it as well. The Last Stand probably won’t end up on any “Best of 2013” movie lists, but it certainly is a fun diversion and just looks fantastic on the big screen.