Last Stand, The (United States, 2013)January 17, 2013
Old action heroes don't die or fade away; they just keep going.
Once upon a time, being an action star had an expiration date. Now, as long as there's some acknowledgment of the aging process - a line here, a joke there - it's viewed as more of an inconvenience than a career-ending condition. As a result, big names from the '80s and '90s like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis have thriving action careers two decades past their expected "sell by" dates. Granted, they're not the surefire box office draws they were in their heydays, but a select group of people (probably those who were teenage boys in the '80s) still buy tickets to see these guys. And the fascination with AARP-eligible action heroes explains the success of movies like The Expendables (and its sequel) and Red (which is getting a sequel of its own).
Aside from cameos, Schwarzenegger hasn't made a movie in ten years. His decade in politics has left its mark on his reputation and career and, despite the expert work of makeup artists, he looks more grizzled than chiseled. His acting skills haven't noticeably improved but no one ever went to a Schwarzenegger movie expecting Oscar-caliber performances. Schwarzenegger has always loitered in the popcorn-munching section of the multiplex and there's no reason to expect that to change now, even with the man in his mid-60s. Indeed, now that the political phase of his life is in the rearview mirror, he's making up for lost time in front of the cameras with no fewer than ten movies in the can, in progress, or on the drawing board.
In many ways, The Last Stand feels a little like vintage middle-of-the-road Schwarzenegger. It's a little more jokey and has a stronger comedic flavor than many of his best-remembered efforts; the recipe has been tweaked, not overhauled. There are numerous instances of physicality, including a ludicrous climactic fight scene, but there's a tongue-in-cheek element to these, typically accompanied by some kind of reference to Schwarzenegger's age. On more than one occasion, he hefts and fires big guns; those are the scenes when viewers are most likely to flashback twenty years. He even gets to utter his trademark line although it, like everything else, is a little different. When he says, "I’ll be right back," it isn't italicized.
The film, directed by South Korean Jee-woon Kim, hits all the necessary action beats and effectively blends in the humor. The narrative serves the expected purpose of giving Schwarzenegger the opportunity to fire a few guns, engage in what looks like a WWE smackdown, and utter a few underwhelming one-liners. (Does anyone expect "I'm the sheriff" to replace "Hasta la vista, baby" in the Schwarzenegger lexicon?) It's a solid way to re-introduce Arnold to multiplex audiences but one hopes for better things to come.
Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of Sommerton, a small town on the Arizona/Mexico border. Ray, formerly an elite cop in L.A., came to this out-of-the-way hamlet to wind down without officially retiring but trouble has a way of finding such men when they're portrayed by Schwarzenegger. In this case, the problem is a Mexican drug lord, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), who escapes from custody and, driving a souped-up Corvette 01, rockets toward Sommerton and the border crossing. After defeating every pursuit vehicle and road block thrown at him by the Feds, Cortez thinks he's home free. But his henchman, Burrell (Peter Stormare), isn't the only one waiting for him in Sommerton. Sheriff Owens has put together a small team to meet the oncoming storm.
In an attempt to broaden The Last Stand's appeal beyond Schwarzenegger fans and old-school action film junkies, the producers cast the net far and wide when hiring the supporting actors. Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, and Luis Guzman play members of Ray's team. Eduardo Noriega brings a certain nasty charm to his part and Peter Stormare accomplishes what Peter Stormare does best - the creepy, conscience-free psycho. Despite getting "co-billing" with Schwarzenegger, Knoxville doesn't have a very large part - in fact, he's not on screen long enough to wear out his welcome.
As action films go, this is a fair-to-middling effort, notable almost exclusively for being Schwarzenegger's comeback vehicle. The humor keeps it from becoming completely generic but there's still nothing of particular interest here. Expectations are also key - those who anticipate Schwarzenegger to be the badass of 30 years ago are going to be disappointed. He's a dinosaur but that works for him because he acknowledges it and soldiers on nonetheless. Put another actor in the part, however, and this would be headed straight to home video.
When one considers movies featuring macho men coming to terms with aging and mortality on screen, no two have done it better than John Wayne in The Shootist and Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. There may be a little of that here, but only a little. Instead of this being a farewell, it's Schwarzengger's fulfillment of his oft-repeated promise: he's back. The questions that The Last Stand only begins to answer are what that actually means and whether audiences will care.
Last Stand, The (United States, 2013)
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzman, Genesis Rodriguez
Screenplay: Andrew Knauer and Jeffrey Nachmanoff & George Nolfi
Cinematography: Ji-yong Kim
U.S. Distributor: Lionsgate