If you’re looking for the nuanced realism of modern action movies such as those in the Jason Bourne franchise with lots of shaky hand held camera shots and heroes who are held firmly to the laws of physics and whatnot, ‘The Last Stand’ is not the movie for you. If you’re ready for a break from that kind of gritty realism though and just want to kick back and enjoy an old fashioned Hollywood action movie that won’t challenge you mentally or in any other way really, this may be the perfect flick for your Sunday afternoon lounging. To be sure this is an old fashioned farce of an action movie complete with comical send ups in which blood is splattered and bullets are flying everywhere. The intent is not to show the horror of actual gun violence, but just to exist as an entertaining escapist experience. Judging by the box office performance of this movie in which it failed to even make back its original production costs, it looks like, timing wise, people were not in the mood with the ongoing national gun debate and the countless shootings on the news, to be entertained by such a movie as this anymore. But that is hardly the fault of the film makers who could not have foreseen all that, so now that it’s out on DVD one wonders if this movie will find a wider audience more willing to give this a shot from the comfort of their own homes verses the full theater experience.
Now onto the story, thin and paper like as ever. Ray Owens (Arnold) used to be a hot shot cop in Los Angeles, but after a long career full of many shoot outs and high profile cases, he has decided to retire in a small out of the way town called Sommerton Junction where he will hopefully be able to live out the rest of his career in relative peace and tranquility as the town’s lone aging and amicable Sheriff. In Sommerton most days you can find half the police force busy shooting at tin cans propped up on a fence post, or sitting in the police station playing checkers with one another, as the most rampant criminal activity in the town itself consists of minor parking violations and other such trivialities. Into the peaceful slumber of this town enters Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), the leader of a very large and powerful cartel, who has just completed a daring escape from the FBI (here lead by Forest Whittaker in yet another of his “classic” phoned in authority figure performances), and who is now heading straight for Sommerton in order to cross over the border to Mexico there. Aiding him in his escape of course is the aforementioned cartel who crash the “party” in Sommerton and attempt to clear whatever foreseeable obstacles that there might be to obstruct their bosses course, which to them, do not seem like much at all. There’s of course, only one small factor they forget to figure in. There’s an old Sheriff in town, and he don’t take kindly to people shooting up his peaceful retirement community. Basically, we got ourselves an old fashioned stand off. It’s Arnie versus a whole cartel of bad guys armed to the teeth and ready to rip this border town to shreds.
This movie struck me as basically a modern retelling and rearranging of an old John Wayne movie I saw countless times as a kid called ‘Rio Bravo’ in which one lone heroic Sheriff and his small band of partners (all with their own back stories and assorted idiosyncrasies) holes up in their small little town, with many scenes with them just bantering back in forth inside the jail which they make their fort, while waiting to do battle with the big bad gang of cutthroats that are threatening the town. John Wayne himself would basically remake this movie twice with ‘El Dorado’ and then ‘Rio Lobo’…. He famously said when asked to read the script for Rio Lobo, “Why bother? I’ve already read it twice.” I can see Arnold basically saying the same thing to the script of this movie that has him basically playing the same extension of the on screen persona he created more than two decades ago now. I mention that because no other actor today has the same on screen swagger and presence that Wayne commanded with such ease, except perhaps for Schwarzenegger, although to a different degree. Neither of them were actors of great range, and often basically played the same familiar characterizations in their movies over and over again, but both were also perhaps underrated by their detractors as well, because, when utilized in the right vehicle, they both were absolute forces of nature, and created some of the most memorable and entertaining movies in Hollywood history.
‘The Last Stand’ marks Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring role in a major motion picture in over ten years. He’s had some bit parts and cameos in the intervening decade such as a brief appearance in ‘The Rundown’ with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and his self lampooning performances in his good pal Sylvester Stallone’s ‘The Expendables’ franchise, but mostly he was busy impregnating house maids and bleeding the state of California (or Cal-ee-for-nee-a as he says it) dry as a squeezed lemon. So that being said, how does this movie perform? Well, let’s just say Ah-nold makes a much better action hero, even at his advanced age, than he ever did a governor. He shakes off the rust well enough here and looks as comfortable as ever behind the trigger of a big machine gun, literally spitting out grizzled one liners left and right.
Still though, ‘The Last Stand’ is well below even the purely superficial level of quality that Schwarzenegger established in the 80s and 90s with his slew of big budget low brained action block busters, and is no doubt eons and light years away from the truly classic work in the Schwarzenegger catalogue such as Total Recall, The Running Man, the first two Terminators, the original Conan movies etc etc etc.. It is helped a bit by its self awareness and self deprecating humor in parts, but this is at best, about on the same level as one of his lesser remembered mid 80s flicks, 1986’s Raw Deal, and that is faint praise indeed. There is fun to be had here if you are a fan of this type of brainless bullet ballet of a film, but if you’re only a casual enthusiast or an admirer of only his well renowned roles, this movie can easily be skipped without too much regret or worry.
Here’s the one thing that bothered me most about ‘The Last Stand’; who on God’s green earth decided to give Johnny Knoxville equal billing with Arnold Schwarzenegger in this movie’s cover and poster? I know we are in the age of reality television with ever more decreasing attention spans and juvenile poop humor run amuck, but even still, Mr. Knoxville is far removed from his ‘glory days’ of being a hot commodity with younger audiences and so I can’t imagine his inclusion here in this picture is going to sell a lot of extra DVDs or generate that much buzz. Hell, it would have been an insult to give him equal billing even when his repugnant show ‘Jackass’, (the successor in terms of vulgarity to the equally repugnant, if somewhat less dangerous ‘Tom Green Show’) ruled the MTV airwaves. He is not even needed as comedic relief as that role is handled solidly by the ever reliable Luis Guzmán who plays one of the town deputies here. That being said, thankfully, Knoxville’s screen time here is kept to a barely noticeable minimum and his character plays a small (although still thoroughly annoying) but kind of crucial role in the plot here, providing our main characters with the heavy military grade weapons needed to ensure the final climactic gun battle with our big bad cartel goons can go off without a hitch.
One more tidbit of trivia here, the role of Ray Allen was originally written for Liam Neeson, and looking back, while it was nice seeing Arnold back in his classic mannerisms and whatnot, I would have liked to have seen what Liam would have brought to the role as well. Existing as it does as a modern western and an updating of Rio Bravo as I said, I think Liam would have brought the grounded earthiness and believability that John Wayne had, but then again, he could not have brought the old ‘John Wayne’ presence that Arnold brings us here, nor could anyone else for that matter, except Arnold himself, and in the end, it is that presence and swagger that is the most compelling reason to see this movie. That’s all for this review, as always thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all next time out.
The Last Stand gets a two out of five: DECENT.