After a recent crushing disappointment starring a man hoping to be the latest international action superstar(I’m talking to you Henry Cavill and your tepid “Man of Steel), comes the surprisingly sharp return from a senior citizen whom at one time was the biggest movie star in the world. And part of the success is due to the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger plays upon not only his age…but his immigrant status as well. It’s a swift, crafty little B-movie western, and it’s also the former Governor of California’s first starring role in a decade(since 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” if you’re wondering). At the very least, “The Last Stand” is of equal quality to 2012’s “The Expendables 2″(that was shockingly solid also, btw)—I think it’s even a little bit superior. Arnold’s small-town sheriff Ray Owens is a hoot. So, if you’ll forgive me…I’m glad he’s back. The box office tally wasn’t on his side this time, but I believe that can change with the right project. I mean seriously, sixty-five though he may be, Arnold has a forty-plus year history of defying expectations. He’s certainly one of the most unlikely mega-stars in Hollywood history—it’s possible even that he claims the title.
Sheriff Ray Owens(Ah-nuld, in fine form)is a former high-ranking LAPD officer who is loving the simple, small-town issues presented as the head lawman in the border town of Sommerton Junction, Arizona—a place where everybody knows everybody by their first name. Distraught after a bungled operation in L.A. years prior, Ray is more than happy to live out his remaining years jailing the town drunk and ticketing cars parked in the fire zone. Meanwhile, miles away in Las Vegas, Nevada, the transfer of an international drug kingpin goes awry, and he spectacularly escapes the clutches of FBI Agent John Bannister(a terrific Forrest Whitaker, doing his best Yaphet Kotto). The now fugitive, Gabriel Cortez(a slick and slimy Eduardo Noriega)is beyond ready for his getaway. Not only does he have a pretty FBI Agent hostage in Ellen Richards(gorgeous Genesis Rodriguez), but he’s driving a modified Chevy Corvette C6 ZR1 that he’s racing to the Mexican border at speeds over 200 mph. Back in Sommerton, Sheriff Owens has an inkling of something fishy in his sleepy desert town when some out-of-town toughs appear at the local diner. Soon, an overnight call about a late milk delivery turns into a connection to the Noriega chase, and Owens and Agent Bannister figure out that the drug lord is racing right towards Somerton Junction! Blood, bullets, car chases, some goofy humor, and all around mayhem ensue, with the Sheriff and his deputies making a “last stand” against Noriega and his well-armed henchmen.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit that this American debut is the first feature I’ve seen from renowned South Korean film director, Kim Ji-woon. At the very least, I should’ve experienced his acclaimed “A Tale of Two Sisters” from 2003 and 2010’s “I Saw the Devil” by now. I intend to rectify that soon. If anything, the under-performing “The Last Stand” has piqued my interest even more. Why didn’t it spark more box office interest? Dumping it in the mid-January 2013 wasteland couldn’t have helped—the studio should’ve exhibited more confidence(it’s my understanding that this film is doing solid business on DVD…good, it deserves it). Beyond the attributes already covered, “The Last Stand” also sports fine support work from character actors like Peter Stormare, Luis Guzman, Johnny Knoxville and Harry Dean Stanton(86 years young!). Hey, it’s not going to make anyone forget “The Terminator” or “Predator”, but it’s a fun, genre exercise that should leave its target audience with a smile on its face. Furthermore, it’s a nice return for Arnie…I didn’t even realize I missed him. Grade: B-