/ the last stand
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After years in the wilderness, the rightful king of action returns to the silver screen. He’s conquered kingdoms, destroyed terrorist cells, gone back to the future to save the past, battled Predators, liberated Mars, and given birth. No other actor (to use the term indulgently) has a more remarkable pedigree for mindless destruction, retina-searing spectacle, and pure block-busting action than Arnold Schwarzenegger. With over 530 fatalities to his name, he makes cholera look like a head cold. If it bleeds, he’s killed it, and if it burns, he’s blown it up – and if you think you’ve accomplished something with your life, you better believe you’re wrong.
Following his turbulent foray into Californian politics, the iconic action superstar returns in his first starring role since ‘Blurghminator 3: Rise of the Machines’, way back in 2003. In The Last Stand, Arnie plays Ray Owens, the inexplicably Austrian Sheriff of Sommerton Junction, a tiny border town in rural Arizona. Formerly a cop on the LA drug beat, Ray has retired to greener pastures (figuratively speaking), cheering on the local football team and citing the Mayor for parking infringements. This all changes when he receives a call from the FBI: notorious drug baron, Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), has escaped from custody and is racing towards the border. His projected route? Sommerton Junction. With only himself and a handful of deputies standing between Cortez and ill-gotten freedom, Ray is forced to step up to the plate and strap on his six-guns one last time…
After years out of the saddle, Arnie slips back into the role of gun-toting hero with few signs of rough wear – although he does so at a slightly slower (if entirely conscious) rate of fire. Although clearly not written with his limited strengths in mind, he executes his role as the aging Sheriff with brisk efficiency, stumbling over the character-driven dialogue sections and excelling in the shootouts in typical Arnie fashion. His work here is no better or worse than late-career Arnie, which is mostly the same as mid-career Arnie. (The glory days of T2 and True Lies, alas, will always live on BluRay).
Objectively speaking, if your enjoyment of a Schwarzenegger film is entirely dependent on your Schwarzenegger quota, you’ll be in for disappointment. While the Arnie sections are well done – swiftly drawing the rote routines and colorful characters of the small desert town – the concurrent FBI sections (detailing Cortez’s escape and pursuit) are a bum-numbing drag, even as necessary set-up for the barnstorming finale. The Last Stand is a bottom-heavy film, drawing on Westerns like The Magnificent Seven, Seven Samurai, and For A Few Dollars More’for their rip-snorting, guns-blazing final act. By the time we return to the town, the story feels too large – the stakes don’t seem to matter much, and the characters we were initially introduced to have slipped out of relevance. It’s a structure problem the film never recovers from, and results in too little Arnie spread much too thin.
Along the way, director Kim Jee-woon (in his English-language debut) orchestrates the action with the same genre-mixing flair he displayed in The Good, The Bad, And The Weird, his previous homage to Spaghetti Westerns. Referencing a half-dozen scenarios and sequences (ranging from Desperado to Mad Max 2), the film only fails to be interesting when it departs from its initial premise of small-town shenanigans. Sadly, this happens frequently, with far too much of its run-time dedicated to Forest Whitaker’s dull FBI agent, and a bunch of subplots that go nowhere. It’s a shame too much incidence is crammed into its first hour, leaving the conclusion underdeveloped in suspense and tension. The film’s reluctance to commit to its classical narrative premise is understandable, from a commercial point of view (action hounds demand… well… action), but a touch more restraint and bravery in its plotting might have elevated it above sporadic mediocrity.
It’s redundant to debate whether the excesses of The Last Stand make it better or worse than other Arnie films like Collateral Damage and The 6th Day, since excess has always been synonymous with the Schwarzenegger name. At the end of the day, the Arnie ‘greats’ have always been exercises in excess, with the only point of difference lying in the treatment of its larger-than-life star. There will never be another film as gloriously giddy as True Lies, or as spectacularly symphonic as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Arnie’s wise enough (and old enough) not to try. The Last Stand is a serviceable return for the former Governator, and while cynics may say it’s more of the same (and be right), the destructive inner-child he represents is – and always will be – a welcome, diverting, and eternally entertaining presence.