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The Last Stand (2013)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE LAST STAND (2013)

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, Eduardo Noriega

Written By: Andrew Knauer Directed By: Kim Jee-Woon

The Short Version

Arnold Schwarzenegger gets his first new headliner in a decade.

It’s not exactly a triumphant return.

The action scenes work, but everything else is a paceless drag.

Don’t ask about logic.  You know better.

The Last Stand isn’t one of Arnold’s best, and only worth a look if you don’t have to shell out extra for it.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

SWISS SINGLES.

Full of holes and not very exciting.


Pairs Well With...

CORONA LIGHT.

Watered down and dull.  It’s an excuse to get up and use the restroom more than it is anything else.

“You're talking to a 72 year old man with high cholesterol, eating a bacon and cheddar omelet with extra cheddar.  Do I look like I'm afraid of death?”

 

Once upon a time, Arnold Schwarzenegger was one the most bankable stars in Hollywood.  Then he decided to become the Governor of California, and film stardom took a back seat to a full time day job and the rare quick cameo shot.

Flash forward to 2013.  A decade had passed since Schwarzenegger had last headlined his own action flick (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines), and the time had finally come for him to once more have his name at the top of a multiplex marquee, just above the title: The Last Stand.  It was a moment anticipated by millions of old school action movie fans… the majority of whom stayed home while the film bombed at the box office.

Admittedly, I was one of them.  Having finally caught up with The Last Stand a year and a few months after the fact, I can see that quality clairvoyance didn’t fail me.  Sure, I’ve sat through worse, but big screen cash worthy material this isn’t.  Even paying for a rental is a stretch.

The premise is straightforward enough.  The leader of Mexico’s biggest drug cartel, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega, Vantage Point), has been captured by American agents, and is being transferred from one facility to another in Los Angeles.  Wouldn’t be much of a movie if he didn’t escape, of course, and he does it in style, boosting a prototype Corvette with a thousand horsepower engine and a Fed hostage (Genesis Rodriguez, Hours) in the passenger seat to encourage any cops who might be interested in stopping him to behave themselves.  He should be at the US/Mexico border in just a few hours.

Meanwhile, a fork in the road and a reasonably fair distance away from the border crossing that American agents are busy fortifying, Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Escape Plan) is getting an earlier than expected start to what was supposed to have been a day off.  Quick: how many of you think that the Corvette is going to head for the heavily fortified official border crossing, and how many think it’ll make a run through the Sheriff’s sleepy little town of Sommerton instead?  Yeah, thought so…

All things considered, The Last Stand should be a really difficult movie to screw up.  Sure, the story relies on a massive pile of illogic and is assumed to be full of holes even before one takes the time to inspect it up close (and upon inspection, of course, that assumption is proven correct), but in this genre, that’s considered a given of the sort that the target audience agrees to accept without prejudice.  Keep it fast and keep it fun, and no reasonable person is going to give a damn about logic.  Schwarzenegger and many others like him built their careers on this rule back in the 80s and 90s.  Filmmakers understood the rule, and “can’t miss” formula action flicks kept theatres, video stores, and midnight cable humming.

Suggesting that The Last Stand “hums” is a bit of a stretch.  Think of it more like a narcoleptic gunslinger that gets the job done during those stretches when he’s awake, but who ends up dropping off and lightly snoring for much of the day.  With a few small exceptions, The Last Stand delivers during its action sequences, but there’s way too much space in between and very little tension to keep things feeling lively.  It’s still watchable enough to work as “in one eyeball, out the other” material on cable or on a flat rate subscription service, but one of Schwarzenegger’s most entertaining movies it ain’t.

The tone is set by the first fifteen minutes of the film, which are primarily spent establishing the already obvious truth that “sleepy Arizona town is sleepy.”  One can completely skip this opening section without missing anything particularly relevant, and that’s never a good sign.  Setting a stage is one thing, but there’s still pacing to consider, and that’s this movie’s major problem: it doesn’t have any.  Tension and atmosphere are things that happen to other films; this one steps a little too far back into the “aw shucks” zone and gets stuck.  If it weren’t for the fact the Jaimie Alexander (Thor) makes an effort to add some layers to her off-the-shelf character by flexing some actual acting muscles (never a given in these flicks), there’d be no reason at all to pay attention between action sequences.  (The subplots aren’t that interesting.)  So if you’ve got some household chores to do while The Last Stand is running, director Kim Jee-Woon and company have given you plenty of openings.

And that’s unfortunate, because in other hands, The Last Stand really could have been an awesome movie.  The framework may have more holes in it than a cheese grater, but it’s still plenty sturdy, and the action sequences that are already there play well.  The first big one – the drug lord’s breakout, starting around fifteen minutes into the movie (which, as previously hinted, is ten to fourteen minutes too late) – is outstanding, and it’s not a matter of gunfire and explosions so much as it is the cleverness of the execution.  Indeed, it’s one of the coolest bad guy breakout scenes I can think of having watched in quite a while.  (And as you may have noticed, I see a lot of these types of movies, so…)  When the souped-up Corvette races first with and then through some pesky cops, it’s fun to watch.  The siege of the town is a bit smaller scale than I was expecting, but it still plays reasonably well, with a few easily overlooked little stumbles along the way.  And while I think the “haggard old guy who’s still got something left in the tank” card gets more than a little overplayed with regard to Schwarzenegger’s character, his final standoff with the bad guy (that is so not a spoiler) is genuinely satisfying.  So it’s not as though the people behind this flick don’t know how to do action, because they do prove that they can… but they’re so short on stamina and follow through that’s it’s just too hard to stay excited about anything.  Give this movie to someone else who knows how to hold an atmosphere and maybe, just maybe… but no.

And after a while, that lack of atmosphere and the stutter-stop pacing feel like something less than simple mediocrity; really, they’re just plain annoying.

This brings up the matter of the individual who absolutely should not have rated second billing on most of this movie’s posters, and who is, indeed, one of the major reasons I stayed away from The Last Stand in the first place: Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame, who pretty much lives up to what that resume “highlight” suggests here.  One suspects that the “crazy gun nut” character so aptly named Dinkum was written (or at least rewritten; I can’t say for sure) with his schtick in mind, and that character goes a long way toward killing what little tension and atmosphere The Last Stand ever had.  (Think Rob Schneider in Judge Dredd, and then devolve a step or two.)  I get the utility of a “gun nut” to this particular story, but there’s a way to do it right, and then there’s Johnny Knoxville.

To be fair, though, as much as I dislike Johnny Knoxville and his character here, he’s not the main problem with the movie.  The director is, and that problem’s more than big enough to relegate The Last Stand to the low end of the so-so pile.

Bottom line, anyone who was hoping for The Last Stand to represent the triumphant resurgence of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career was left holding the bag back at the theatre, and it hasn’t gotten any better for home audiences.  There’s potential here, and there are some decent moments to be had, but overall, The Last Stand is nothing to go out of your way to see, and if you’ve got a few other things to do while it’s playing in the background, that’s fine.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2014


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