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The Last Stand - movie review

Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been someone who plays well with others. He rules over a world divided into two groups - chumps and dead chumps – while family and friends largely exist to piss him off by dying. Time and again the classic Schwarzenegger experience in films such as The Terminator, Predator, Commando and Total Recall is of a creature more tree than man coming out of nowhere to repeatedly kill people until the end credits roll. If he shared a scene with a person, that person usually died; if he shared a scene with an object, that object usually blew up.

So there’s something fundamentally askew about the way that The Last Stand – his comeback film after his long stretch as a politician – sees him as a small town sheriff with a squad of deputies that the film actually spends some time getting to know. In fact, despite the extremely basic concept here – a Mexican drug cartel boss (Eduardo Noriega) escapes from FBI custody thanks to his hi-tech gang of sexy ninjas before jumping into a stolen supercar with his FBI agent hostage and makes a run for the border, with only Arnold’s small town in the way – this takes a surprisingly long time to get up to speed.

Not all of this early stuff is dead weight. The cartel bosses’ escape is a thrilling sequence that also features a giant magnet, plus people swinging from skyscraper to skyscraper and the boss taking the time to put on a designer suit before making his getaway. But after that we get multiple scenes where FBI chief Forrest Whittaker frets about the multiple ways his escaped prisoner could cross the border. In a real movie, these scenes would be fine; in a Schwarzenegger movie we all know the only way out is through him so why not just get on with it?

Then we get multiple scenes featuring Schwarzenegger’s three deputies: the young up-and-comer who’s a bit of a klutz (Zach Gilford), the feisty young woman (Jaimie Alexander) and the old-timer watching the clock (Luis Guzmán). The klutz asks Schwarzenegger for help moving up in law enforcement so no prizes for guessing how his story ends, while you know feisty gal is feisty because she locked up her own ex (Rodrigo Santoro) for being the town drunk. Johnny Knoxville runs the local gun museum which you just know will come in handy, there’s a bunch of comical old duffers in the local diner, the cartel bosses henchmen, (led by Peter Stormare toting an 1850’s era revolver) are up to no good outside of town, the supercar blows off a few roadblocks, and when exactly are we going to get to the killing?

While all this set-up is playing out, it’s not quite enough to distract from the fact that Schwarzenegger is playing a slightly different character from the old days. Here he’s older, a little more thoughtful, a little less arrogant and – somewhat surprisingly – actually slightly plausible as a character who thinks before he pulls the trigger. There’s nothing actually wrong with this but it is a less fun character than the murdering arsehole he used to be. Combined with the endless set-up, for a while this looks like this could be yet another of Schwarzenegger’s post ‘90s duds.

And then the last half hour or so is an over-the-top shootout that’s exactly what you want from this kind of film and the day is saved. There’s everything from dramatic last-minute saves to a guy getting shot with a flaregun so the shotgun shells he’s carrying make him explode, and while Arnold isn’t an unstoppable killing machine here (after jumping off a roof with a badguy then shooting him in the head on the way down, it takes him a fair amount of huffing and puffing to get back up again) he does get to do plenty of what you’ve paid to see him do: shoot people while saying dumb things.

Schwarzenneger’s always been smart about teaming up with good directors, and South Korean Jee-woon Kim (The Good, The Bad and the Weird and I Saw The Devil) makes the action just that little bit fresher and sharper than you’d expect for a film with a star who made it big thirty years ago. The occasional Western riff doesn’t go astray either (my alternative titles: High Speed Noon and Pale Supercar Rider) and while none of the one-liners here are up with Schwarzenegger’s best, seeing a little old lady blow away a bad guy for being rude is always going to work.

The Last Stand has already failed badly at the US box office. It’s debatable if any film could have created a successful comeback for Schwarzenegger after his dubious political career and personal scandals. But judged solely on its merits, this is a lightweight, well-made, entertaining (if largely forgettable) action film. Which is about as good a result as any surviving Schwarzenegger fans could have asked for.

Lead image credit: The Last Stand via blogspot.com

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