A fan of director Jee-woon Kim (The Good, The Bad and The Weird) and fairly optimistic over Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the action genre that made him a household name, I was more than just mildly interested in their collaboration, The Last Stand.
The premise of the film sounded routine enough – Arnold plays a Sherriff of a small town on the Mexican border that stands between a ruthless criminal and his freedom back in his home country. Our baddie, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), is racing towards the town in a supped up stolen vehicle that can out run a helicopter. Meanwhile, Gabriel’s minions (lead by actor Peter Stormare) are ready preparing a make-shift bridge across a canyon that will provide our speeding criminal with his access to Mexico.
All Gabriel has to do is cross the bridge. All the sheriff has to do is stop him. Easier said that done.
Gabriel’s plan is well plotted and his gang of thugs are heavily heavily armed. All the sheriff has at his disposal is a group of inexperienced deputies and two willing townsfolk, one of which (played by Jackass’ Johnny Knoxville) has an arsenal himself that could bring down a small country and is just what the Arnie needs to apply equal force to the determined band of hooligans.
As expected in a Schwarzenegger film, cars speed, bullets fly, bad guys fall, good guys do their part and blood is spilled up to the climax that will have the sheriff and Gabriel square off mano-a-mano as is the prerequisite for any Arnie films.
Although the story sounds routine and like an old comfortable shoe, it is a shoe that we enjoyed watching Arnold cozy back into. Arnold is now in his 60’s and The Last Stand doesn’t try to hide this evident fact with plenty of one liner jokes and a hero that is hardly the fast and agile action hero we once watched in films such as Red Heat and Commando.
Even the distraction of an FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) and his inability to either transport Gabriel safely to his new prison or to get a S.W.A.T. team to the small town to assist the sheriff is handled with enough class to keep us interested in all aspects of the pursuit.
To this, we can thank director Jee-woon Kim. There are plenty of great action sequences to make The Last Stand stand out from its peers. The helicopter chasing Gabriel down a highway was excellently shot. So too was a car chase between our two main characters through a cornfield.
The Last Stand was released last week and is already being considered bomb. Although critics have been favourable (it has a ‘Fresh’ rating on Rottemtomatoes.com), the film managed only a $7 million opening week-end.
Which is really a shame. This is hardly Schwarzenegger’s worst film. In fact, it might be the best thing he has done since True Lies (taking Terminator 3 out of the equation). If The Last Stand was released in say, 1999, it would have been a monster hit. Instead, younger audiences don’t share the connection to the big man from Austria as does most people over 30 and it would seem that Arnie is going to have to work extra hard to win back an audience on the big screen.
Whether that happens this year or next, it is no reason to ignore this competent entry into his filmography. It was fun without being too silly. Violent without being too cartoonish. And familiar without being too stale.