Towards the end of The Last Stand, Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) struggles to his feet and is asked ‘How are you, sheriff?’ ‘Old’, Owens replies, in a decidedly un-American accent. ‘Ah, you got a ways to go yet’, the local reassures, mercifully stopping short of winking at the camera, given the carnage we’ve just witnessed.
Tongue-in-cheek dialogue aside, it’s a neat précis of the pros and cons of Schwarzenegger’s first leading role since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The Last Stand is tonally schizophrenic, formulaic to the point of parody and lacking any real sense of place or logic.
Conversely, it’s knowing, fun, and packed with so many fights and quips that Lionsgate could have conceivably have plastered ‘He’s still got it, honest’ on the posters (perhaps in the place of Johnny Knoxville, whose minor role certainly doesn’t merit equal billing with The Governator).
As a comeback piece for Schwarzenegger and a move into English-language film for Korean director Kim Ji-woon (I Saw The Devil), the plot for The Last Stand was always going to be a secondary concern. In fact, it’s so uninspired that the only real enjoyment is to read the synopsis aloud while mimicking voiceover legend Don LaFontaine. It boils down to ‘An aging cop in a small town. An insane drug lord on the run. And a supercharged car headed for the border.’
And that’s it. Sure, there’s a couple of minor subplots to push the running time up – Rodrigo Santoro’s Army veteran needs a shot at redemption, Zach Gilford’s rookie longs to see action, Peter Stormare’s gang member is helping the big bad, but struggling with an accent from both Louisiana and Sweden – but this is a blast of entertainment in which intrigue is secondary to OTT action.
You’ll smirk when Forest Whitaker’s hilariously smug FBI agent cries ‘We’ve got a psychopath in a Batmobile’ as Martinez (Noriega) speeds down the highway. But the silliness with which back-stories are crowbarred into the screenplay is offset by some genuinely enjoyable set-pieces, with a road-block escape shot with Kathryn Bigelow-esque efficiency.
And then, even as you’re chuckling as Schwarzenegger swaps slippers for a sawn-off shotgun (and later, a school bus…) Kim marshals a final half-hour that demonstrates all the wit and excess that made The Good, The Bad, The Weird so deliriously thrilling. Luis Guzman’s nervy deputy ‘Figgy’ brandishes a sword, a granny delivers some vigilante justice (and the requisite subsequent quip) and henchmen are dismissed with flares and Schwarzenegger spear-tackles.
It’s as if Kim decided that as the previous 70 minutes had been passable, but nothing more, he might as well end the film with as many gasp-inducing moments as possible.
This ‘throwing everything at the wall’ approach just about works and makes Arnie’s comeback an undemanding but gratifying slice of Friday night entertainment. It’s best to not concern yourself with a supposedly American sheriff’s European accent, or the unveiling of a ‘top secret’ FBI plan to at least 30 cops or the fact that Stormare tells his goons ‘If it doesn’t move, shoot it anyway’.
The Last Stand is well aware of its flaws, but perfectly content to paper over the cracks with fun and firepower. The film’s paltry US box office debut might suggest that in an era of Skyfall and superheroes, audiences need more from their action heroes. But it’s still good to have one of the best ever back. After all, he did promise he would be…