Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ray Owens. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for The Last Stand.
February 22, 2013
(Republished June 24, 2013)
The Last Stand sees Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger return to the big screen following an eight-year term as Governor of California, because that is the reality we now occupy. To quote Watchmen, "If you begin to feel an intense and crushing feeling of religious terror at the concept, don't be alarmed. That indicates only that you are still sane." He plays small-town sheriff Ray Owens, the most curiously-accented Arizonan police officer in the history of the force. Helpfully, the excellent Swedish actor Peter Stormare turns up with a thick Texan cadence, presumably as a distraction. Way to jump on the grenade, Pete.
When notorious drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) escapes the FBI's custody in Las Vegas, he makes a break for Mexico, with only sleepy Sommerton Junction standing in the way. Sommerton hasn't seen much action lately - or ever - and Owens' ragtag group of misfits (Luis Guzmán, Jaimie Alexander, Zach Gilford) are seriously bored. That all changes when Federal agent Bannister (Forest Whitaker) warns them that Cortez might speed through their border town in his souped-up Corvette ZR1. The presence of the nefarious outsider played by Stormare - and the murder of a Sommerton farmer (Harry Dean Stanton) - all but confirms Cortez's plans. Owens, knowing what it takes to bring down a cartel from his stint in the LAPD, deputises local gun-nut Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), and borrows his explosive, somewhat medieval weaponry for the showdown.
Schwarzenegger, Jaimie Alexander, and Rodrigo Santoro.
This marks the English language debut of director Kim Ji-woon; the man responsible for such popular South Korean features as A Tale of Two Sisters and The Good, the Bad, and the Weird. With those two flicks, he displayed real flair behind the camera, if not exactly an ability to tell a story economically, or deliver emotional payoffs (as opposed to his contemporaries, Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook). Andrew Knauer's screenplay for The Last Stand doesn't quite beg for those latter talents, making this a fine showcase for Kim's glitz. It's a fun, dumb, enjoyable, dumb, mostly well performed, super dumb film. Arnie is starting to resemble a human being in his older years, though he's yet to fully grasp the concept of acting like one. Much better are his wonderfully funny co-stars - Guzmán, Alexander, Gilford, and Rodrigo Santoro, as another impromptu deputy - who are relied on to carry much of the movie while Schwarzenegger is off icing his calves (which is why I assume he's absent for giant portions).
The gun fetishisation is off the charts here, however, and I did find myself somewhat challenged by its grotesque representation of American firearm culture. Don't mistake me; I have no problem with blood and gore on screen. For an action-adventure to have stakes, sometimes lives must be on the line, and death is often the result of vicious violence. What troubled me was a sequence played exclusively for laughs: when one of Cortez's men infiltrates an old woman's antique store, she exclaims "No trespassing" and proceeds to shotgun him in the back. With one further assailant out of the way, a surprised Owens nods to the lady and says, "Obliged."
My concerns have nothing to do with The Last Stand coming out in the wake of Aurora or Sandy Hook; we're always in the wake of one tragedy or another. But NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre's recent suggestion that, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," rang in my ears as this scene played out. It's one thing for lawmen to bring justice to a bunch of murderous criminals; it's another thing entirely to encourage the idea of an old woman gunning down trespassers indiscriminately. It just feels like the kind of sequence that Ted Nugent might enjoy, and I cannot get on board with that. Ironically, I had absolutely no issue with the incredibly brazen moment in which Arnie pushed one of the bad guys off the roof of a building and also shot him in the head. Call me a hypocrite. Maybe I'm a product of our terrible times.
The Last Stand is available on Quickflix from June 26, 2013.