Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: "The Last Stand"

Just a quick review/rumination on "The Last Stand" today. Nick Rogers is handling the main review over at The Film Yap, so head over there to check that out for a more complete take.

I see "The Last Stand" as a marker. It's less a movie meant to be enjoyed in its own right than a question for the audience, and the Hollywood machine. And that is: Can Arnold still cut it as an action star?

Based on this old-school shoot-em-up, ably directed by Korean filmmaker Jee-woon Kim, I'd say the answer is definitively yes.

The movie itself is big, dumb and loud. It's one of those flicks where the audience is encouraged not to think much about whether the plot makes a lick of sense or if the characters are thicker than plywood. It's one big excuse to dive into a whole lot of gunfire and mayhem, interrupted by funny bits and Schwarzenegger's patented quips.

"The Last Stand" takes its own good time to get rolling -- the screenplay doesn't really take off until the 45-minute mark -- but once the explosions and machine gun fire starts up, it's a glibly visceral thrill ride the rest of the way.

The plot is straight and simple: a Mexican drug cartel chieftain named Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has escaped from the feds during a bold breakout in Las Vegas. He's driving a hyper-fast Corvette prototype toward the sleepy Arizona border town of Sommerton Junction. After the various federal law enforcement agencies muck up the job, it's up to the local sheriff, Ray Owens, and his three deputies to stop Cortez.

Now, Schwarzenegger does not look like a "Ray" or an "Owens," but he fits comfortably into the town's laid back culture. We later learn he was once a hotshot Los Angeles narcotics cop who gave up the fast lane 20 years ago to detox in Sommerton.

It's sort of funny to think about the fact that the Austrian Oak has lived in America for 40 years or so, but his thick wiener-schnitzel accent hasn't diminished one iota. Still, it's clear that despite his name and speech, Ray isn't a native -- at one point he tells the bad guy, "You make us immigrants look bad."

Arnie is still a badass in this movie, but a more down-to-earth and human one. He looks a mite stiff and slow during the fight scenes. Schwarzenegger also seems physically smaller, like a Norse titan cut down to size by his earthly existence. I noticed he appeared shorter than a number of his male co-stars. My memory of him is that he towers -- and glowers -- over everyone else.

Other cast members include Johnn Knoxville as Dinkum, the local screwball who operates an ersatz firearms museum -- open every third Thursday of the month, noon to 3 -- just so he can legally own all sorts of high-powered weaponry that will come in handy later. Peter Stormare has a fun role as the kingpin's henchmen, who dresses like an Old West dandy and even fights with an ancient six-shooter.

Luis Guzman is Ray's right-hand man, who suggests they look the other way when the heat comes, but walks tall in the end. Rodrigo Santoro is the town drunk, who happens to be an ex-Marine. And Jamie Alexander is convincing as the only female cop.

At age 65, how  many more movies like this does Arnold Schwarzenegger have left in him? I'd like to think a few -- especially if he comes back in other roles like this where he's not playing a superman, but just a tough old-timer with a few tricks left in him.

Personally, I would love to see him make some more Conan movies -- as I often point out to people, the original Robert E. Howard books took the character out to age 70 or so.

The most telling moment in "The Last Stand" comes at the end. Having defeated the bad guy -- what, you didn't think he would? -- the sheriff is sitting on the curb, torn up and bloody from his travails. Over walks the FBI chief (Forest Whitaker) who had been overseeing the chase from afar, offering Ray information, advice and not a little condescension.

Ray goes to stand up, struggles to do so, and the G-man holds out a hand to help him up. He glares at the outstretched hand, clearly peeved that it is seen as being necessary. Then he winces with pain, bows to the inevitable and lets the younger man help him to his feet.

Time catches us all, and even the biggest action movies stars should have the grace to acknowledge it.

2.5 stars out of four

1 comment:

  1. I want to see this next payday. I just saw Gangster Squad. I enjoyed it but events sure were changed from what really happened. Mickey Cohen was devoid of all humor – which he did posess. Plus they put him away for murder which didn’t happen at all – just tax evasion. Plus they only showed him wiping his hands once. He washed his hands every 5 minutes. Con Keeler was the last Gangster Squad man to die. And the Emma Stone character did not exist at all. In two weeks I will see The Last Stand. It looks very entertaining. Age does not matter. It just means different roles.