In The Last Stand, a dangerous FBI fugitive frantically flees toward the Mexican border, and the only one standing in his way is a small town sheriff played by Ah-nold Schwarzenegger?!?! Sounds like a bizarre comeback film for the former Governator right? Given many of the aged Austrian action star’s previous larger-than-life roles, you don’t expect him to play an Average Joe. That type of character seems better suited to an everyman actor, maybe even someone with a Southern-fried personality.
Surprisingly Arnold makes the role work for him, because he takes a straightforward approach to his character. He doesn’t feign a Southern accent or pretend to be super patriotic. He portrays a disillusioned cop named Ray, who left the glamor of big city policing in favor of a peaceful life in the desert. Ray doesn’t want to use violence; he’s forced into it when the bad guys step foot in his town and attack his deputies. Arnold is playing the reluctant hero, which we haven’t seen him do in a while, but it’s something he actually does well.
We all know Arnold’s not the greatest actor; although in this film he does the best with the material he’s given, leaning heavily on the delivery of his lines to help convey his character’s sentiments. He doesn’t get many one-liners that are funny, however there are a couple, like when he chides the villain for “f**king up” his day off.
Despite being in his 60s, Arnold proves that he can still kick ass, with an epically awesome gunfight, a frenetic car chase, and a gritty hand-to-hand showdown with the main baddie Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega). He doesn’t try to pretend he’s invincible anymore like in his younger action hero days though. Arnold playfully acknowledges his age a couple of times. The most notable instance occurs when he’s thrown through a glass door. Someone asks “Sheriff, how are you?” to which he responds “Old,” but thankfully not “Too old for this s**t.”
Sadly, the dialogue in The Last Stand isn’t very clever, and the story isn’t particularly compelling. There are also amazing character actors like Harry Dean Stanton and Forest Whitaker who are criminally underused. However there are some entertaining folks that see more screen time like Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville, who play two of Ray’s goofy allies. Peter Stormare is fun too as the heavily armed henchman Burrell.
Two things that save The Land Stand from being dangerously average are the over-the-top getaway schemes from Noriega’s cartel boss and the incredibly skillful directing of Jee-woon Kim. The cartoonish plans by Cortez are creative, involving a giant magnet, zip lines, a massive plow truck, a modified Corvette, and night vision. You’ll be comically impressed when his elaborate plotting comes together.
Jee-woon Kim assembles an aesthetically pleasing action film, using smooth well-framed shots throughout. His fistfights are refreshingly cut so that they’re easy to follow and his car chases are riveting, especially the one that takes place in a corn field. Kim keeps the movie moving at a relatively brisk pace that falters a bit toward the middle, but picks back up again once shooting starts.
The Last Stand is a by-the-numbers action flick that harkens back to simpler tales like you’d find in the 1980s. That’s part of its appeal though. Arnold returns to the genre, as a reluctant hero who manages to step up and save the day. He may be older, but he shows that he’s willing and able to adapt himself. I’m looking forward to his next few projects.
My Grade: B