The Last Stand Review
Don't Question It, Just Go With It
Arnold Schwarzenegger is back and weirder than ever before. His first film with a starring role in ten years, The Last Stand, is undoubtedly one of the most unquantifiable films I’ve ever watched. To simply call it a “bad” movie is an easy cop out. The Last Stand is directed by Kim Jee-woon — the very same Kim Jee-woon who directed one of the best Asian films of the last decade, I Saw the Devil. While there are many poor qualities about this film, it takes a certain type of viewing to begin an appreciation of it. That being said, The Last Stand is the movie that Arnold needed to make for his long-awaited return to action stardom despite its terrible box office draw.
Before I get on to the (and I can’t believe I’m saying this in relation to The Last Stand) “complexities” of the film, I should point out its enumerated flaws. There is a reason it debuted at number nine in the box office. To wit, the entire first act is unwatchable. Poor writing, poor acting and completely unnecessary, drawn-out subplots are the symptoms. Every actor/actress playing one of the townspeople is reminiscent of any portrayal seen in Tommy Wiseau’s “treasure,” The Room. In fact, Sheriff Schwarzenegger gives the most believable performance in that entire first act. Even seasoned character actor Luis Guzman seems off his game at first, and Coen brothers-regular Peter Stormare plays a secondary villain who couldn’t be any more conspicuous. The only glimmers of hope seen in Act One are the grade A cameo of Harry Dean Stanton as a curmudgeonly farmer who isn’t afraid to (literally) pull the trigger as well as the promise that Arnold will eventually do what Arnold does best: stylistically shoot a gun into the camera with a forgettable, simple one-liner made memorable by his distinct accent. More annoying than anything in the movie, the score just doesn’t fit and seems lazy (and if you’re wondering, the deputy’s name is Jimmy in case you didn’t catch a single line of dialogue in the first half-hour).
The film picks up early in Act Two when Forest Whitaker, the FBI and the primary villain are introduced. Whitaker gives a solid performance as an FBI big shot despite having little material to work with — proving once again that his Oscar was well-deserved. The biggest issue involving FBI scenes in The Last Stand is that they’re made out to be Keystone Cops. It’s utterly ridiculous how poor the FBI are at their jobs in this film. Schwarzenegger and his gang of losers plus one hottie do better police work than the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It’s like “bizarro” Hitchcock. J. Edgar Hoover turned over in his grave…and not just because it’s poor cinema. Nevertheless, the action picks up in Act Two. Our multi-gazillionaire Mexican drug cartel leader villain is introduced as a stereotypical multi-gazillionaire Mexican drug cartel leader. (He also drives a car faster than a helicopter).
Things get super weird in Act Three. I’d spoil the weirdness if I could, but I can’t. There’s an old lady with a shotgun (another poor performance of a townsperson). There are exploded limbs flying akimbo. There’s an elaborate, yet hastily-built bridge to Mexico in a cornfield. Johnny Knoxville shows up with an unintentional-social commentary performance regarding the Second Amendment. (If anything this film is all about guns, guns, GUNS!) After the weirdness passes, The Last Stand finally (and not a moment too late) becomes a formulaic action movie.
If you’re going to see this film, I strongly encourage you to view it this way: please watch it in regards to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entire, illustrious career as an action movie star. The film itself is very aware of its star. Schwarzenegger’s character, Sheriff Ray Owens, used to be a big shot in Los Angeles and is now in the process of accepting old age. Sound familiar? There are key scenes in the film that convey the film is more about its star than its main character. There’s a scene where Ray Owens gets blasted through a plate glass window into a diner full of people and he comments on how he is “old.” Perhaps the most interesting scene in the entire film for me is early in Act Two when Ray examines a corpse and has to put on glasses to better examine the body. Did Arnold ever need to wear glasses in any other action movie he made? No, that wouldn’t be macho! It wouldn’t be young! It would humanize him and make him more sympathetic — and that’s just what The Last Stand is: a sympathetic analysis of an aging action star.
I currently live in the state where Schwarzenegger served as governor for the first decade of this century. A lot has changed since his last starring role in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. However, he hasn’t. Of course, Arnold fell on hard times when news surfaced about his terrible infidelity, but he persevered and became a movie star again the only way he knew how. He did it with The Last Stand: lots of action, guns, explosions, camp and heart.