Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman, Peter Stormare, Forest Whittaker, Rodrigo Santoro, Genesis Rodriguez, Eduardo Noriega, Zach Gilford and Jaimie Alexander.
Writer: Andrew Knauer.
Director: Kim Jee-woon.
Resembling more the ‘Austrian Oak’ with each passing year, Arnold Schwarzenegger still manages to make a big, bloody fist of the archetypal action-hero in Kim Jee-woon’s The Last Stand.
His small-town sheriff Ray Owens probably won’t stand alongside Conan, The Terminator, John Matrix, Dutch or Harry Tasker in the Schwarzenegger panthenon of larger-than-life heroes, but as a noble figure of moral virtue willing to combat the effects of his autumn years in the face of merciless villainy…well, Arnold’s latest he-man will do just fine.
The American debut of the South Korean director is a remarkable departure for the director, whose most high-profile works to-date have been the nerve-rattling horror/thrillers I Saw the Devil and A Tale of Two Sisters. That said, he is clearly a fan of the American action flick that ruled the 1980s box-office and launched his leading man to global stardom. The director’s slick visuals and frame-perfect blocking make the preposterous seem possible, notably in a dazzling set-piece that sees the films snarling, soulless bad guy, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) escape the custody of FBI agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker).
With agent Richards (Genesis Rodriguez) as hostage, Cortez hightails it to the sleepy Arizona outpost of Summerton Junction, a dusty no-man’s land where an advance party of his heavily armed henchmen, led by sociopath Burrell (Peter Stormare, chewing scenery with obvious glee) are prepping for the druglord’s border crossing. What no bad guy is counting on is the ageing sheriff and his rag-tag battalion of cops, each one just this side of caricatures – goofy newbie Jerry (Zach Gilford), ageing veteran Mike (Luis Guzman) and feisty hottie Sarah (Jaimie Alexander). Along for the ride is Sarah’s ex-bf returned serviceman Sam (Matthew Greer) and gun nut Lewis (Johnny Knoxville).
Ostensibly crafting a modern spin on the one-horse-town-shootout of classic Western lore, Kim wisely keeps his cards close to his chest in the film’s first act. He wisely eases Schwarzenegger and the big man’s faithful audience back into top billing status (it is his first lead role since 2003s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) before unleashing the splattery gunfight goods.
As comfortable as Arnold appears on screen, it is patently obvious the window of opportunity for the anticipated action-hero comeback will be small. Kim employs the tried-and-true editing technique of cutting away whenever long passages of dialogue are required but, for the first time in Schwarzenegger’s career, it is also employed when the action is in full flight; some pretty obvious stunt stand-in doubling is employed, too.
Not that forty-something fans (like your critic) who remember Ah-nald’s heyday like it was yesterday or new followers happy to bask in the warmth of ironic 80s nostalgia will mind. While unlikely to figure in the mind of Oscar voters, The Last Stand nevertheless achieves its two-fold aim – to reignite the legend of the most unlikely all-American movie star of the last 40 years while delivering a thoroughly enjoyable action romp to boot.