The Last Stand: Pre-ironic action is back

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback subscribes to that new/old vein of streamlined action cinema; it’s a straightforward neo-Western that wastes no time in getting the job done (and exploding a couple of sports cars in the process).

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand

It would be easy to dismiss Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback as a lead outright after close to a decade of political shenanigans; his better years are obviously behind him, and he wasn’t exactly lending his name to the most prestigious projects before he became Governor. Action movies changed while Arnold was away, and his brand of quip-heavy, vaguely homoerotic brawn has been replaced by intricate superhero sagas and sleek, cerebral thrillers in the Bourne vein.

Thankfully, The Last Stand subscribes to that new/old vein of streamlined action cinema (think Dredd); it’s a straightforward neo-Western that wastes no time in getting the job done (and exploding a couple of sports cars in the process). It’s not exactly True Lies, but it’s certainly watchable.

Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) is a former L.A. hotshot cop who turned it all in to become the sheriff of a sleepy town on the Mexican border. When an FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) clues him in that a ruthless drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) has escaped custody and is heading straight for the border, he rounds up his few employees (Luis Guzman and Jaimie Alexander), deputizes the gun-collecting village idiot (Johnny Knoxville) and a cell-bound drunk (Rodrigo Santoro) and sets about righting wrongs, laying down the law, etc.

It’s a surprisingly simple yet efficient premise; a more irresponsible, soundbite-hungry critic (perhaps a pun-happy one with a moustache) might call it Schwarzenegger’s High Noon. Director Kim Jee-woon, however, brings just the right amount of off-kilter glee to the proceedings. The talented helmer of several breakout Korean hits (I Saw the Devil, A Tale of Two Sisters), Jee-woon seems overqualified to handle this kind of material, but he manages to bring out the inherent strengths in the script (although the character of the sassy, violent grandma makes its unwelcome return from the mothballed 90s) and add some muscle to the action scenes.

Having aged into a pretty believable projection of what an actual human looks like, Schwarzenegger is lovably stiff and Austrian in the part; one must appreciate the effort he puts into making no attempt to move or emote like a human being. Although his larger-than-life persona will necessarily overtake any film he stars in, he’s worked his way gracefully into acting his age. He also keeps the shitty one-liners to a minimum (although purists will be happy to know that, like cockroaches, you can never truly get rid of them.)

The Last Stand delivers a lot of what you’d want from it and precious little of what you wouldn’t: it’s fast-paced and no-nonsense, unconcerned with hoary old clichés like love interests, endangered children or backstory beyond the most cursory of nonsense. It’s silly when it needs to be, but still frames its multiple shoot-outs and hand-to-hand-combat scenes with enough sweat and crunching bones to remain compelling. It’s the kind of movie that revels in Peter Stormare’s impenetrable Swedish-Texan accent and a scene of Luis Guzman mowing down faceless bad guys with a machine gun. It’s an honest-to-goodness action movie in the most shameless way, and I for one am glad they’re back. ■


Alex Rose explores the worst of cinema on his podcast and blog, Why Does it Exist? @whydoesitblog on Twitter.

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