Article By: Dan Clark
After a temporary retirement and a brief stint as the Governator of California Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned to the silver screen. Schwarzenegger has had a few cameos in The Expendables franchise but The Last Stand marks the first time Schwarzenegger has taken the lead in a film since Terminator 3. With such a long layoff one wonders if Schwarzenegger could pick up where he left off. While he would never be confused with an acting savant, he brought a certain magnetic charm that made him one of the world’s biggest action stars. Perhaps it’s an issue of too much rust on the gears or a hindrance due to advanced age that has water downed his charismatic persona. His movements are achy, his punches are feeble, and his trademark one-liners are haphazardly executed. The film surrounding him does not do him any favors either. While there are a number of well-crafted action beats, it gets bogged down with unnecessary subplots and a cavalcade of one note characters.
Not only does The Last Stand mark Schwarzenegger’s return to film it also marks the American film debut of South Korean director Jee-woon Kim. Jee-woon comes with a strong pedigree stacked with a variety of quality films from a multitude of genres. Experience gained from making a something like The Good, The Bad, The Weird should pay dividends with a movie like this. The Last Stand shares a similar Western like atmosphere. The story revolves around Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) the leader of a drug cartel that his broken free from imprisonment. With the aid of a souped-up sports car he hopes to escape back to Mexico. The only thing standing in his way is a small town and its old-time sheriff (Schwarzenegger) with a troubled past. Using all of his well-earned experience this grizzled sheriff hopes he and his inexperienced crew have what it takes to stop one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals.
The basic premise has classic 80’s action written all over it. Jee-woon does deliver a number of fun action set pieces. A finely tuned team dismantling a highway road block and a high caliber shootout in the middle of a desolate town were two moments that stood out among the rest. The best action typically occurred when Schwarzenegger was not the focal point. It was as if Jee-woon’s sensibilities and Schwarzenegger’s style were at odds with one another. When Schwarzenegger was on-screen things came to a screeching halt. There were glimpses of the Schwarzenegger we know and love, but when he would recite one of his classics witty quips it felt like you were watching a bad Schwarzenegger impression. Maybe this can be the warm-up he needs to regain his prior greatness.
Though compared to Forest Whitaker, Schwarzenegger was an all-star. Whitaker continues his Cuban Gooding Jr. esc fall from Oscar winner to direct to DVD star. He plays the FBI agent that allowed Cortez to escape custody. Whitaker’s subplot does everything it possibly can to derail the film. It goes on for far too long and adds nothing to the overall story. Sure, it provides an opportunity for Cortez to flex his muscle as a criminal mastermind, but Eduardo Noriega lack of personality makes that attempt mute. Plus it lingers on these boring characters to seemingly buy time for future events. If these characters were more well-defined this entire subplot may not have been so pointless.
Unfortunately the other characters are not much better. There are examples like Lewis Dinkum, a flaky weapons collector played by Johnny Knoxville. Dinkum is not only a failed attempt at comic relief, he is an unsuccessful effort to market to a younger audience. This casting reads as if the movie studio was hesitant to believe Schwarzenegger could still draw a crowd. So they doubled down by throwing Knoxville in to balance things out. One wonders what type of control Jee-woon had on this film, because as an outsider looking in it doesn’t look like he had much. The script he was working with was certainty one of the biggest issues. Conversations between characters were lazy attempts to establish backgrounds. Information was forcefully inserted into the dialog as if people are reading each other’s life stories on the back of baseball cards. More importantly this messy exposition added little substance to the narrative. It tried to be more than the sum of its parts.
When you are watching a film like The Last Stand there are certain expectations you have as an audience. You are not looking for high class cinema–just a good ride with plenty of action. This delivers on some of that promise. Those who have a wet appetite for throwback action will get slivers of what they crave. With stronger editing and a tighter script there wouldn’t be such a lack of excitement. Who knows what the future holds for Schwarzenegger’s or Jee-woon’s movie careers. Hopefully this will just be a small roadblock to their upcoming success.