The Last Stand might have screened after press deadlines, but Arnold's return was too much for critic AP Kryza to miss.
Critic's Grade: B-
The good news: After a 10-year absence, the most legendary action hero's cinematic return is totally an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick, a loud, riotous symphony of bad one-liners, explosions, blood, guns and fast cars. The bad news is that The Last Stand
is an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and not one of the Total Recall
or True Lies
variety. In its simplicity, it hews closer to Red Heat
or Raw Deal
Which is kind of what we need right now in the age of highly choreographed, high-concept action ever-reliant on shaky-cam fights and intricate plot contrivances. When the big man—perplexingly named Ray Owens despite his thick accent—pops onscreen for the first time, it's a special kind of magic. You know exactly what to expect. You know that the character will be defined by his body type and scowls. You don't really want, or need, much more. This is gun-worshiping, masochistic comfort food for anyone who ever stayed up late at night watching Commando during a sleepover, and in many respects it delivers on its promises of mayhem.
Said mayhem is delivered by the great Kim Jee-woon, a master of taking genre tropes and amping them up to ridiculous levels (see also: the sickeningly twisted I Saw the Devil and the creepy A Tale of Two Sisters). The South Korean auteur proved his action chops with the fantastic The Good, The Bad, The Weird, a kimchi western whose cacophony of inventive violence proved one of the greatest popcorn flicks to emerge from the Korean renaissance, a slurry of trains, motorcycles, gatling guns, horses, cowboys and comedy. So it's only fitting that his Hollywood debut offers much of the same, albeit in a stripped down, dumbfuck shoot-em-up. When Kim's allowed to unleash hell in The Last Stand, the fireworks are mesmerizing.
The plot, though, could have been written by a 6-year-old: A Mexican drug lord escapes police custody, gets into a souped-up Corvette and makes a 200 mph dash for the border, where a semi-retired badass (Ah-nuld) is sheriff of a sleepy town. Upon hearing the bad guy is coming, he and his deputies (Luis Guzman and gun-nut Johnny Knoxville among them) take up arms and get ready to throw down, guns a-blazing. When that Corvette (and its accompanying army of henchmen) arrives, things—actually, pretty much everything—go boom. Especially bodies.
When the film is content to let the chaos break out, The Last Stand is more or less perfect in its knuckle-dragging bliss. Alas, this is a Hollywood film, so there's considerable time wasted on Forest Whitaker as an FBI agent whose sole purpose seems to be staring stoically at computer screens and barking obvious observations (mainly, that the bad guy is a bad guy). These scenes add padding, but they drag the excitement and anticipation down with them. Who wants plot when you've got Arnold in a school bus tricked out with a gatling gun, Knoxville turning a dude into a spray of limbs with a flare gun, or a scenery-munching Peter Stromare (Fargo, The Big Lebowski) rocking a cowboy hat and possibly the weirdest accent ever delivered? Nobody.
But damned if it isn't satisfying to see the Big Man back in action, and under the direction of a filmmaker who wisely eschews character development in favor of intricately conceived acts of cartoonish bloodshed. When Arnold plays Roadrunner to a sea of Wile E. Coyotes with automatic weapons, The Last Stand is a welcome return to form—a hysterically stupid celebration of chaos delivered with childlike love. The main problem is, for a film focused on an ultra-fast car barreling toward confrontation, it takes far too much time getting to the party.