The Last Stand - SideReel Review
Given the depressing lack of iconic young action stars in contemporary American cinema (at least Thailand has Tony Jaa and Indonesia has Iko Uwais), it’s easy to understand why adrenaline junkies would flock to a film like The Last Stand in order to see an old pro engage in some R-rated rough play. Yet despite being touted as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring action role in a decade and sporting a high concept that provides the perfect opportunity to indulge in some ridiculous over-the-top mayhem, this formulaic lemon takes far too long getting to the titular showdown, features one of the most bland villains in recent memory, and offers some of the lamest one-liners ever uttered by the man who delivered some of the most memorable in screen history. Yes, everything old is new again in this routine shoot-’em-up, and not even a few particularly bloody kills can stave off the sneaking suspicion that more fun was had on the set than will be in the theater.
A former LAPD hot shot who opted for an easier life after becoming the sole survivor of a bloody drug raid, Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) retreated from the city to become sheriff of Sommerton Junction -- a small town on the U.S./Mexico border. He's finally adjusting to life at a more leisurely pace when infamous drug-kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) stages a daring escape from an FBI convoy, and sets his sights on Mexico. With a hostage to guarantee his safe crossing and a violent mercenary named Burrell (Peter Stormare) clearing him a path to the border, Cortez races south in a custom Corvette ZR1 that can outrun anything on the road. Meanwhile, Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) realizes that should Cortez manage to slip through Sommerton Junction, he may well be lost forever. At first it seems that Sheriff Owens' skeleton crew will be no match for Cortez's speeding juggernaut, but when Owens decides to stand his ground with the help of Sommerton Junction's finest, Cortez comes up against an immovable force with enough firepower to stop him dead in his tracks.
Nostalgia can be a powerful motivator when it comes to selling movie tickets; Sylvester Stallone proved that with his surprise 2010 hit The Expendables, but then again he had a whole host of icons -- including Schwarzenegger -- to back him up. In The Last Stand, the scale is decidedly smaller, and the supporting cast slightly less distinguished. Of course that’s more of a knock against first-time screenwriter Andrew Knauer than it is the great Luis Guzman or lovable loon Johnny Knoxville, but when your freshman screenplay is more an amalgamation of tired action tropes rather than a reinvention of them, it doesn’t bode well for anyone involved. From the doomed rookie to the rugged sheriff who just wants a little peace and quiet, virtually every aspect of The Last Stand had been done to death long before Schwarzenegger even wielded a sword in Conan the Barbarian and, somewhat surprisingly, not even critically acclaimed South Korean director Kim Jee-woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird and I Saw the Devil) manages to bring enough energy or innovation to the table to make things feel fresh again. Indeed, his fluid direction is a welcomed reprieve from the hand-held style that has dominated the action genre ever since The Bourne Identity, but there’s precious little personality on display to show why Jee-woon has become one of the most celebrated filmmakers of the Korean new wave, and that’s precisely what The Last Stand needed to be -- a comeback vehicle befitting of the star who raised the bar for action cinema back in the 1980s.
Perhaps The Last Stand’s shortcomings would have felt less pronounced had the filmmakers offered up a villain worthy of their star’s towering status, but instead we’re given the worst kind of baddie -- a purportedly ruthless cartel boss whose bizarre backstory is far more interesting than anything he does onscreen, and whose sole purpose is to become a living punching bag in the predictable final showdown. The action genre has come quite a long way in the last decade, and when the old heroes are content to merely go through the motions rather than upping the ante, maybe the rest of us are simply better off with the memories. Schwarzenegger’s legacy deserves better than this, and so do his fans.