Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to the big screen in a starring role for the first time since 2003’s Terminator 3 in The Last Stand, an aggressively non-cerebral throwback to the action genre he so thoroughly dominated during the 1980s and 1990s.
It’s nice to have him back.
Schwarzenegger stars as Ray Owens, a one-time Los Angeles cop who has settled into semi-retirement policing the lazy border town of Summerton Junction. Lazy, that is, until Mexican cartel boss Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), following a brazen escape from the custody of FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), chooses Summerton Junction as his point of entry into Mexico.
With the help of a Corvette that can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour, Cortez makes his break with help from a group of professional mercenaries led by Burrell (Peter Stormare). Not to be trifled with, these killers are building a mobile bridge that will allow Cortez to traverse the narrow canyon at the edge of town separating America from Mexico.
Backing up Sheriff Owens is a band of misfits: potbellied deputy Mike (Luis Guzman), broken-down Marine Corps vet Frank (Rodrigo Santoro), dedicated lady-deputy Sarah (Jaimie Alexander), and crazy gun-nut Dinkins (Johnny Knoxville).
The set up is basic. Can the ragtag good guys stop the professionally trained and equipped bad guys from escaping? However, by embracing such a simple plot, director Jee-woon Kim is able to concentrate on orchestrating excellent action sequences.
The Last Stand is not a character study. It’s not a dramatic masterpiece. It’s a slam-bang action flick—and a good one.
Kim’s pacing is nearly perfect. The film is a lean hour and forty-five minutes. It begins by alternating between scenes set in Summerton Junction and scenes on the road with Cortez and his Corvette. Soon the real fun—“a turkey shoot,” as Burrell says—can begin.
Schwarzenegger has released this ode to the Second Amendment at an interesting moment. In Summerton Junction there is no handwringing about magazine or caliber sizes. Oh, no. In Summerton Junction there are grannies with shotguns defending their homes from trespassers, and Jackass stars with hand-cannons blasting at drug-running invaders. Just like the Founders intended.
Where The Last Stand fails—and in a film such as this, it’s a relatively minor failing—is in its performances. They are slightly lacking. And accents are part of the problem.
Audiences have long accepted Schwarzenegger’s accent. The incongruity of the Austrian-accented American superspy (True Lies) or undercover teacher of young children (Kindergarten Cop) is part of the muscleman’s charm. But the sheer number of terrible, dislocated accents in The Last Stand can be overwhelming.
Stormare, a Swede, plays his character with a weird southern accent that fails to mask his natural intonation. Santoro plays a U.S. Marine with Brazilian inflections. Cortez is a Mexican drug lord with a Spaniard’s twang. One wonders if this aural dislocation is a function of South Korean native Kim simply having a tin ear for how actors sound to American audiences.
Still, Kim’s visual acuity makes up for the film’s audio problems. The Last Stand looks great, shot with verve and nerve by a director who understands how to frame and pace a coherent action sequence. He limits the use of shaky, hand-held shots to convey frenetic action, and he lets the stunts sell themselves.
It’s a refreshing change of pace from the modern action-packed, smash-cut thriller. It’s also a visual throwback to the 1980s, and an appropriate fit for the star power of that consummate ’80s idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger.