Arnold Schwarzenegger became a household name and an action movie icon in the 80s. Some of his movies are the best in their respective genres (Terminator, T2, Total Recall) and others, while entertaining, fell a bit short (Commando, Red Heat, Raw Deal). Now he’s back, in his first starring role (he was a supporting player in the Expendables movies) since he left acting for a stint as Governor of California. The Last Stand, from Korean director Jee-woon Kim (The Good, The Bad, The Weird), is a terrifically entertaining, straight forward action movie with some very nice comedic touches. There are plenty of interesting stunts (a scene involving a roof-top crane aiding in a criminal’s getaway stands out) and plenty of shoot-outs, all playing out in thrilling manner. The film’s plot is fairly simple, and could be at home in an old fashioned Western as well as a modern crime thriller. It mainly evokes memories of High Noon, while both acknowledging Schwarzenegger’s action star status as well as winking at his age (he’s 65, the age when many retire). It’s one of Schwarzenegger’s better performances to date, and the supporting cast only adds to the fun.
The film casts Schwarzenegger as Ray Owens, a former LAPD officer who has now become the sheriff of the sleepy border-town of Sommerton Junction. His deputies are mostly competent, though prone to some lapses (an early scene has one getting a nose bloodied by trying out a powerful handgun), and he is respected by the townspeople. On a day that is supposed to be Owens’ day off, trouble heads his way, in the form of a drug cartel kingpin named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega). Cortez and his cronies stage a spectacular escape from FBI agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) and Cortez speeds towards Sommerton Junction, where his cohorts are building a bridge across a narrow ravine to aid in his escape to Mexico. Owens learns of the danger heading his way when Bannister alerts him, and he realizes that he and his deputies need to make a stand to prevent Cortez’s escape. It all plays out with plenty of gunplay and car stunts, making for a very enjoyable action flick.
In addition to the action, director Jee-woon Kim also gives us plenty of comedic moments that work well. Luis Guzman and Zach Gilford have their moments as two of Owens’ deputies, as does Jaimie Alexander as the lone female officer. The real comedic standout is Johnny Knoxville’s character of Lewis Dinkum, a gun enthusiast and owner of a makeshift firearms museum that helps arm Owens and his crew against the oncoming threat (One nice scene as the crew are looking through Dinkum’s collection has Guzman picking up a sword, which was the same Atlantean blade used by Schwarzenegger in the Conan movies). Knoxville delivers plenty of laughs in his role, giving names to his favorite guns and vehicles. The supporting bad guys have their moments as well, particularly Peter Stormare, Cortez’s crony in charge of building the bridge. He exudes the right mix of menace and provides some nice quips between brutally staging the execution of a farmer (a nice cameo by Harry Dean Stanton) and trading bullets in the climactic shoot-out. The cast all do a fine job, and Schwarzenegger especially shows a nice range of emotions and even pokes a little fun, noting that he’s old after bursting through a pair of doors and crashing onto the floor of the local diner. He still shows that he can shoot and brawl with the best of them, as well as toss off a nice one liner here and there.
Overall, The Last Stand is a solid action film. It may not deliver any real surprises, but it always entertains, giving viewers a nice mix of action sequences and comedic moments that are genuinely funny. It’s one of Schwarzenegger’s better performances, and one hopes that he’ll continue getting roles that are befitting his status as an aging action hero. This is a movie that’s well worth your time. Arnold’s back, and he’s back in fine form.
The Last Stand is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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