“I’M DUH SHEER-UFF!!!”
The H-Bomb: Notorious South American drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) is in the process of being transferred to Federal Death Row, when he makes a daring, and somewhat improbable, escape. Now, behind the wheel of a souped-up Corvette, with a captive in the form of a lovely, young female FBI agent (Genesis Rodriguez), Cortez is barreling through the desert night towards the Mexican border, with a private army hired to hold off the pursuing Feds (led by Forest Whitaker, playing a useless dunderhead who truly puts the “special” in Special Agent).
It would look as if Cortez has successfully left the bumbling Federales in the dust, but there’s just one thing he didn’t count on, Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former L.A. cop who now presides as the top law dog of Summerton Junction, the one-horse border town that stands between Cortez and freedom. This big shot dope dealer may think that this one, measly little sheriff doesn’t stand a chance against him and his gang of mercenaries, but little does he realize… he’s fuckin’ with Arnold, bitch!
The Last Stand was touted as being the big comeback vehicle for the legendary action hero, who has spent the better part of the past decade guhvernating California. Well, as it happens, perhaps Arnold should have stayed in politics, because when The Last Stand came out earlier this year, absolutely no one cared, despite a butt-ton of marketing. It landed in multiplexes with a resounding thud, and quietly vacated them about two days after that. Having now gotten a chance to catch up with it on Blu-ray, I can say that while it’s no Terminator, or Terminator 2, if one’s expectations are kept modest, it is fairly enjoyable.
Now, I should stress that for the first hour or so, The Last Stand is nothing to jump up and down about. I wouldn’t call it boring, but much of the front half of this flick is little more than the drug dealer driving and FBI wonder boy Whitaker hopelessly trying to keep up, all while Sheriff Schwarzenegger starts to piece together that something’s not quite right in his sleepy little dust bowl. Aside from the occasional shootout here and there, it’s all pretty uneventful and even gets a tad redundant. Again, I wasn’t bored… but I was getting there.
Then the big showdown happens, and holy shit does the movie come to life. It finally shifts out of neutral and turns into the raucous, bullet-spraying romp that I expected the whole movie to be. Arnold rockin’ a giant-ass magnum, Johnny Knoxville grinding away like a lunatic on an antique Gatling gun, blood and brains spattering the grounds like your best Hong Kong shoot ’em up, fuckin’ A! Now we’re talkin’! Brilliantly staged and executed by director Kim Jee-Woon, this balls out battle in the middle of town square will satisfy even the most insatiable carnage junkie… if only the movie didn’t have to go through a fucking eternity of nothingness to get there.
As great as the central action set piece is, I must say, what really blew me away about the The Last Stand, wasn’t the gunfights, or the chases, or the mano y mano fisticuffs, but Arnold’s performance. I don’t know what it was, but he really reached down, tapped into something raw and primal, and gave an acting tour-DE-force that rivals Brando shouting “Stella!” at the top of his lungs in the pouring rain. It is a searing, powerhouse, revelatory turn from the Governator that will be remembered this Oscar season… and if you really buy that, then I have a bridge and some swampland that I’d like to sell you.
In truth, Arnie’s acting is a little cringe worthy here. Even by his usual (sub)standards, he’s pretty bad, with his attempts at idle chitchat with the townsfolk at the diner being particularly amusing in an accidental way, and of course, his Austrian accent is never explained. He’s never been a Brando, or a De Niro, but that old charisma of his, that got him through the roles where he wasn’t playing a cyborg, is completely AWOL.
More distressing than his missing likability, is how over-the-hill he looks here, with his every movement appearing stiff and strained, like every joint in his body is wracked with debilitating arthritis. I’m really not joking here, folks, watching him lumber and creak around like his legs are about to break apart underneath him is actually a little sad. Not to mention, it made his climatic fistfight with Cortez seem utterly ridiculous.
As for the rest of the cast, they actually loaded this up with a pretty colorful ensemble; including Peter Stormare as Cortez’s chief goon-for-hire, Harry Dean Stanton as a crotchety old farmer, Luis Guzman and Jaimie Alexander as the deputies who make up Arnold’s police force, and Johnny Knoxville as the gun-crazy village idiot who is deputized when the sheriff finds himself in need of extra manpower. Though Knoxville was billed in the ads as being the primary co-star, in actuality, he’s barely in it, which honestly, I’m fine with, as his whacky, jackass-y antics just seem out of place, anyway.
Forest Whitaker was meant, I’m sure, to bring some Oscar winning heft to the party, but as I said, his Special Agent Dunderfuck is completely worthless, as his only purpose is to provide exposition on everything… literally everything, including background info on Arnold’s sheriff, before vanishing and being entirely M.I.A. for the film’s gigantic, pyrotechnic packed third act. More rewarding work, he has done.
But it goes without saying, we don’t go to a Schwarzenegger flick for the acting, we go for the action, and that is something that The Last Stand does indeed give us… albeit a bit late. Once it gets to the explosive showdown, it gets kind of awesome, it’s just that everything around that explosive showdown is a flat pile of meh. I will say this for it, it’s better than Die Hard 5, but then again, a boil on my butt crack is better than Die Hard 5. It’s far from a great film, with an action star who has certainly faded, but it didn’t deserve to flop as hard as it did. If you’re a fan of old school Arnold, and are in the mood for undemanding entertainment, then you should definitely scope it out.