Ladies and gentleman, it’s been a long time coming but I’m pleased to announce that everyone’s favourite Austrian king of explosions and one-liners is back.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shtick was getting a little stale in the 2000s with crap like The 6
Day underperforming both at the box office and in our hearts, but after he did that whole governator thing we all wanted him back in his rightful place blowing up bad guys. Well, after two rounds of nudge-nudge teasing in The Expendables movies, Arnie is starring in an action movie where he belongs and more importantly, it’s easily the best flick he’s made since the 90s. Schwarzenegger is many things, but he’s certainly not someone who lacks a masterplan for his career and he played his cards oh-so-right on this one. Arnold found himself a grizzled old timer action role without too many “I’m too old for this shit” gags, surrounded himself with supporting players more than capable of helping shoulder the weight of the movie, and in his wisest move, hired Korean genre movie genius Jee-Woon Kim (The Good The Bad And The Weird, I Saw The Devil) to bring him back in style. It may just be dumb action fun, but if you’ve been hankering for some old school action thrills lately, The Last Stand is more than capable of scratching that itch.
“A trash movie birthday cake well worth the empty calories and a triumphant success of empty headed nonsense”Arnold stars as Ray Owens, a former city cop who saw it all and now sips lemonade and passes out parking tickets in a slow-moving Texas town as a form of semi-retirement. He spends most of his days rounding up his idiot deputies (headlined by the always hilarious Luis Guzman) and wagging his finger at eccentric locals lie Johnny Knoxville’s nutball redneck gun nut. However, since this is an action movie that gentle slumber shall soon be interrupted! You see Forest Whitaker is also in the movie (I know, I didn’t see that coming either) as a stressed out FBI agent in charge of transporting Eduardo Noriega’s particularly evil drug dealer between prisons. Unfortunately for Forest, Noriega is set free by some leather jump suit wearing henchmen. Even worse, he’s given a suped up supercar that can travel at 200 mph and he’s got a background in underground racing. So the FBI can’t keep up as the criminal mastermind races towards the Mexican border and it’s going to be up to the local cops at a certain border town to take him down. Thankfully, we all know Arnold is the man for the job and he’s got a few comedic relief co-stars to share in the machine-gunning and one-liner spouting.
One of the best things about The Last Stand is that it’s a B-movie with absolutely zero pretenses of being art. It’s just a big dumb roller coaster that executes its thrills perfectly with plenty of humor that never crosses the line into winking self-parody. The tone is heightened to cartoon levels without a wiff of irony and seeing B-movie thrills executed this purely is actually fairly novel this days. Arnold is of course at the center of it all and even though he’s got a few more wrinkles now and is even less mobile than he was before, the man knows his limits and gets the job done. It’s the kind of role Clint Eastwood would have attached his name to in the 90s and while Arnold can’t even match Clint’s meager acting talents, the tone of the movie is so exaggerated that he never has to. He throws down gravity through swagger and when the time for action comes, he kills off bad guys with the ruthless efficiency of action stars with only half of his 66-years to their name. By the end he’s even involved in a hysterical wrestling match and never once does it feel like the retirement age star can’t keep up. He’s also given a healthy assortment of one-liners and as you well know the man is just as good at chewing scenery as he is at chewing cigars when the time is right. Surrounding him are a cast of actors who all know just the right level of ridiculousness to bring to their roles. Johnny Knoxville gives possibly his best slapstick performance with just enough screen time to avoid being annoying and one big stupid stunt for Jackass fans. Whitaker does his thankless FBI heavy role with grace, Peter “Fargo” Stormare dives into his henchman role with growling glee, Harry Dean Stanton adds character actor class with a nice bullet-in-the-head cameo, and Luis Guzman adds laughs in the corner of the frame whenever the camera is pointed in his direction. All these ingredients come together in a trash movie birthday cake well worth the empty calories and the triumphant success of this empty headed nonsense can be credited to one man other than Arnold.
If you’ve never seen any of Jee-woon Kim’s Korean genre flicks like the slow-burn ghost story A Tale Of Two Sisters, the giddy action flick A Bittersweet Life, the nutso Asian Spaghetti Western The Good The Bad And The Weird, or the vicious revenge thriller I Saw The Devil, do yourself a favor and dive into those gems now. Along with his buddies Joon-ho Bong (The Host) and the great Chan Wook Park (Old Boy), Kim helped turn South Korea into the world finest genre movie factory in the 2000s. It was only a matter of time before these guys took over Hollywood and The Last Stand is a perfect first step in that process. Now, it isn’t a pure Jee-woon Kim film. He came on board with a completed script and star attached, so it’s not like he had the same level of control he has in his native country where he would be able to shut down productions for weeks at a time to rework his scripts. However, Kim was always a filmmaker drenched in American filmmaking influences, so he clearly relished the opportunity to make a modern day Western/action movie and work with a Hollywood icon. The filmmaker slathers his visual style all over the screen with acrobatic flying cameras and eye-tingling bright colours that elevate the film above reality and into comic strip fantasy land. His goofball sense of humour is also well represented in rounds of physical comedy and hysterical, unexpectedly violent turns from the quiet townsfolk on the sidelines. Foreign filmmakers usually come to Hollywood to have their voice stomped out by the assembly line mentality of the studio system, but Kim was lucky enough to find a project suited to his sensibilities and was supervised by a star who allowed him to do the job right.
Watching The Last Stand is like discovering a lost Schwarzenegger classic from the 80s, and if you lived through that era of steroid-fueled action it’s like having an old friend come home to visit. Now, all of the mounds of praise I just spat into your brain might have you thinking The Last Stand is a masterpiece, so let’s nip that in the butt right now. This movie makes no attempt to do anything other than entertain. There are no rich subtexts and zero stabs at meaning. The whole dog and pony show exists to make you giggle at gags and cheer at carnage. That’s it. If you don’t like those kind of movies, stay away. However, given that you’re reading a website dedicated to comic books and videogames and have read this far into the review, I have to assume you’ve got a sweet tooth for action spectacle. Well you my friend are in for a treat. Watching The Last Stand is like discovering a lost Schwarzenegger classic from the 80s and if you lived through that era of steroid-fueled action, it’s like having an old friend come home to visit. If you were even remotely intrigued by the prospect of a new Schwarzenegger movie, get ready to be happy because you just got a great one. Arnie always told us he’d be back and he just proved it. Now let’s hope he keeps taking the time to package violent gems like this and never ever hunts down a Christmas toy or gets pregnant again.