What’s one to make of the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the best thing in his comeback film The Last Stand? Well, that the actor has learned a few things while being away for eight years and the movie simply isn’t very good. South Korean director Jee-woon Kim, helming his first stateside feature after making a name for himself with The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and I Saw the Devil, executes the film’s requisite action scenes competently but the pace he adopts proves deadly as he takes far too long to get to the nitty-gritty – namely seeing Arnie kick butt.
Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) is the sheriff of Sommerton Junction, Ariz., a quiet blip on the map not far from the Mexican border. Getting cats out of trees and writing out parking tickets is about all the law officers of the town get to do, but that changes when they get word from FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) that drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has busted out of federal prison and might be headed their way.
Plot points from classics like High Noon and Rio Bravo echo throughout Andrew Knauer’s screenplay as Owens is left high and dry and winds up relying on a motley crew of assistants, including reluctant Deputy Figuerola (Luis Guzman), frightened Deputy Torrance (Jaimie Alexander) and newly released prisoner Frank Martinez (Rodrigo Santoro). Private citizen Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville channeling Walter Brennan) is enlisted to help as well as he has a private arsenal that would rival those of most developing countries. Together, they fortify Sommerton Junction and wait for the arrival of Cortez and his crew, having figured out that they’ve built a temporary bridge over the Rio Grande, right outside of town.
Unfortunately they, and the viewer, wait and wait and wait some more as Kim spends far too much time with narrative diversions that add nothing to the plot and needlessly delay the final showdown. We don’t need to see them lay waste to a roadblock. They’ve already been established as bad guys and a prolonged sequence showing Cortez escaping from the feds is agonizing to witness. It drags where it should blindside us. Features such as this – make no mistake, this is just a glorified B movie – should have no fat. They need to move at a breakneck pace, pausing only briefly for plot points between one imaginative action sequence after another. Schwarzenegger’s films have always been about showing his audience a good time and while Stand eventually delivers the goods, it takes far too long to get there.
As for Schwarzenegger himself, he proves to be the calm in the middle of this storm. He’s always had presence to spare but the actor now seems more comfortable on screen, taking his time in delivering is his lines and reveling in being the veteran who commands our attention by simply being there. He’s mellowed a bit and has come to realize what his audience will accept as possible for his aging characters that now have feet of clay. That the actor seems to be getting in touch with his humanity bodes well for his future features.
In some ways, Stand resembles the actor’s own experiences as, despite his name, Sheriff Owens doesn’t seem to be from around Sommerton Junction and while he’s done his best to acclimate and has built a successful career, he is never truly of the community. He’s the outsider who’s come and realized the American Dream and seems content to live out the rest of his years, reflecting on his accomplishments, and willing to come out from the shadows from time to time to show the rookies how it’s done. The subtext may be a bit of a stretch, but when Owens says to a particular bad guy, “You give immigrants a bad name,” I can’t help but think that there might be a bit more to Stand than car chases and blowin’ up stuff real good.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.