‘The Last Stand’ Review
In his recent autobiography, Arnold Schwarzenegger describes his part in 'The Last Stand' as "a great, great role." He plays Ray Owens, a former LAPD cop who retired to his hometown in Arizona after his partner got crippled in a botched drug raid. Now the local sheriff, he and a few bumbling deputies are all that stands between the Mexican border and a ruthless drug kingpin. "The sheriff knows if he succeeds," Schwarzenegger writes, "it will mean everything to the town. His reputation is on the line. Is he really over the hill or can he do it?"
With 'The Last Stand,' Schwarzenegger has his own reputation to prove. The former megastar and governor of California hasn't anchored a movie since 2003's 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' -- and at 65, he's well past the traditional sell-by date for macho action heroes. 'The Last Stand' means everything to him, too. If it doesn't perform, studios may start to question his Hollywood comeback. Is he really over the hill or can he do it?
From this Arnold expert's perspective, the answer is, "Yes he can -- for the most part." Surprisingly, it's his line readings and not his stuntwork that feels a little stiff. The action looks good; the acting seems just the slightest bit uncomfortable and out of practice, and the screenplay by Andrew Knauer doesn't give Schwarzenegger much in the way of his signature one-liners. The best -- "How are you, Sheriff?" "Old!" -- was already given away in the trailer. I won't spoil the other big laugh line, but you might as well just lower your expectations right now. "Let off some steam, Bennett!" it is not.
More problematically: Arnold's in surprisingly little of this movie. Huge chunks of the runtime are given over to the big drug kingpin's clever escape from FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), and then his flight to the US-Mexico border via sports car that can drive as fast as a jet. That sounds like a pretty risky -- and pretty attention-grabbing -- way of sneaking out of a country, but thankfully 'The Last Stand's' evil drug dealer, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has a background as a racecar driver. A drug dealing, racecar driver. At least the movie doesn't take itself too seriously.
The other main source of comic relief is Johnny Knoxville's Lewis, a local yokel's in Ray's town with a very convenient cache of assault weapons and a penchant for outrageous, 'Jackass'-lite behavior. After Bannister spends about 15 minutes watching Cortez speed towards the border from a flatscreen-lined command center, he calls Ray and warns him that trouble could be heading his way. But Ray, natural policeman that he is, already suspects something fishy out at a local farm and sends Deputies Mike (Luis Guzman), Jerry (Zach Gilford), and Sarah (Jaimie Alexander) to investigate.
Maybe Schwarzenegger was nervous about shouldering too much of the burden on his first big gig back in the saddle, but between Bannister, Cortez, the deputies and a squad of vicious mercenaries led by Peter Storemare, there's not a lot of room left for Ray and his dramatic arc. As much as I like Forest Whitaker, he's not the guy I go to an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie to see toting a shotgun.
When he finally gets to mix it up in the big showdown, Ahnuld delivers some memorable moments. In the interim, 'The Last Stand' is a satisfying if largely perfunctory action flick, one that bears few of the impressive stylish tics that defined director Kim Jee-woon's work back in his home country of Korea. This feels less like the work of a master director and more like the effort of a reliable but unambitious professional, with little of the high-energy camerawork of 'The Good, The Bad, The Weird' or the sadistic thrills of 'I Saw the Devil.'
So is this really a "great, great role" for Schwarzenegger? Ray Owens is nearly as blank a slate as the T-800. The most interesting things about him are the things that are left offscreen -- if Ray ever had a wife or kids, they're nowhere to be seen (given recent developments in Schwarzenegger's personal life that's almost certainly intentional). Still, even as an older guy, Schwarzenegger maintains that movie star charisma and it's fun to see him roll up his sleeves and tussle with a bad guy -- although it does look a little harder for him than it used to. Actually, it might be more interesting that way. Can he still do it? That's an interesting question.
'The Last Stand' hits theaters Friday, January 18.
Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’