Synopsis: The leader of a drug cartel busts out of a courthouse and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a sheriff and his inexperienced staff.
The last time Arnold Schwarzenegger head lined a major action film was in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” which was released on July 3, 2003, back when a gallon of gas only cost $1.53, Clay Aiken’s “This is the Night” was at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and SARS was the virus of the moment.
Now after running the state of California for a few years, having gone through a very public family scandal and waded back into acting with the “Expendables” films, the former Austrian body builder is back on the silver screen in the Jee-woon Kim directed “The Last Stand.”
I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Schwarzenegger. The only entry from his filmography I swear any strong feelings to is “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and the only film of his I could have conceivably seen in theaters was “Batman & Robin” in 1997, but I think I can be forgiven for expunging that experience from my memory banks.
But I can safely say the roughly 105 minutes spent watching Jee-woo Kim’s (“I Saw the Devil,” “The Good, the Bad, the Weird”) inaugural American film is not something I’d want to forget.
Schwarzenegger portrays Ray Owens, a former narcotics officer from Los Angeles who is now the Sheriff of a small town in Arizona that sits on the Mexico border. His town is the last obstacle for a drug czar who is speeding for freedom at 200 mph in a modified Corvette after being sprung from FBI custody by his cohorts in an elaborate operation that leaves Forest Whitacker’s very incompetent, and severely over acted FBI agent character sputtering in the Las Vegas night.
Did I mention it’s Owen’s day off?
The worst part about “The Last Stand” is the set up. While the film is very fun once it reaches its midway point, you have to sit through some going-through-the-motions plotting, with both characters and props, that screams, “we’ll bring this back later!”
Chief among these is Johnny Knoxville’s character of Lewis. Based on the marketing of the movie, I expected the “Jackass” star to be present for a large part of the movie’s runtime and to wear out his welcome quickly with very on the nose comedic shtick.
Thankfully, he’s present at the beginning and doesn’t show up again until the heroes need him and his museum of guns for the climax.
Knoxville and the rest of the clumsy set up pays off with a very entertaining and even fulfilling ending that’s slightly more memorable than some of the more popular fare from 2012.
Action wise, “The Last Stand” doesn’t really get interesting until the final hour, and since it’s rated R, do not expect the bloodless violence of “The Avengers” or “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Kim keeps the blood flow to a minimum until he dashes out some quick, yet inventive kills to make sure you’re still paying attention. Just wait until you see an old woman defend her store on Main Street.
Casting wise, the assembled thespians are as rag-tag as the group Owens has assembled to defend his town. Some are great, like Jaimie Alexander (“Thor”) as a young deputy; others are what they are, like GreendaleCommunity College alumni Luis Guzman and more than a few, especially Whitaker, are just there to fulfill the most menial plot point.
While Eduardo Noriega’s (“Vantage Point”) drug lord character is the focus of everyone’s attention in the movie, he’s irrelevant for much of the story after his escape, until he arrives in Owen’s town. There’s only so much you can do with a character when they’re sitting behind the wheel of a car for an hour of screen time.
Schwarzenegger is obviously getting old and the movie takes its chances to poke fun at this fact, much like in “The Expendables” and the fourth “Indiana Jones” film. I don’t think anyone’s ever praised the actor for his abilities, but he’s here doing what you expect of him, taking some punches and spouting off some great one-liners.
However, he does get the great moments you would expect from him in a B action flick and that’s really all this movie aspires to be.
If you can get through the lazily scripted first act, you’ll get a rewarding, fun second half that lives up to the film’s title without anyone having to say it.
“The Last Stand” is a serviceable return to the screen for a Hollywood legend, but it’s worth seeing in a matinée, but there’s no need to rush out to see it.