Review: 'The Last Stand' Is an Enthralling Bridge to Former Action
by Jeremy Kirk
January 18, 2013
"You give us immigrants a bad name," says Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Mexican drug lord villain in The Last Stand, the Governator's latest revival to the big screen of bang-bang-shoot-em-ups. He's not alone, and the import Hollywood decided to take a crack at this fast action is Kim Ji-woon. Best known for the spirited The Good, the Bad, and the Weird and the sadistic I Saw the Devil, Kim seems ideal for the amount of ludicrous fun meant to be had with The Last Stand, and with a cast of jaunty bullet-flingers bouncing around a post-modern Western, it's about as much fun as you can have in theaters currently.
Schwarzenegger plays Sheriff Ray Owens, a former LAPD cop who just wants to retire keeping the peace in Sommerton Junction. The most heated the town gets is when Owens has to crack down on local Weird, played by Johnny Knoxville, when he's firing .357's into slabs of meat. But when a kingpin breaks free of the FBI and begins heading for the border in a top-of-the-line Corvette ZR1 - We're told no helicopters can keep up with its 200 MPH topping speed - Owens must find a way of keeping the peace still. That means guns, and with the number of henchmen helping the kingpin, that means a lot of bullets.
And lots of each Kim Ji-woon brings to the table. With the 2013 surge of South Korean filmmakers finding their ways into American theaters, it's no wonder Schwarzenegger's return to headline a violent actioner is all the buzz about The Last Stand. That's a shame when you consider the amount of joy and impact Kim puts into every one of his films. Even the somber and beautiful A Bittersweet Life - Possibly the best action film of the last decade - found ways in making us smile between the moments of genuine drama. Kim, along with fan favorites Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho, all have Hollywood films releasing this year, but it's this first horse out of the gate that seems to have its focus in the red. The Last Stand is a whiz-bang of an action movie, kicking into high gear right from its opening joke to its kickstarter of a jail break sequence. The cars and bullets fly fast, but what else would you expect here?
It's only when Schwarzenegger's Sheriff Owens and the sleepy community of Sommerton Junction are introduced that we see the film's more playful, some would call it lighthearted, side. Schwarzenegger complains about being old while wearing boat shoes. His deputies; Luis Guzmán, Jaimie Alexander, and Zach Gilford all play the innocent, hear-nothing/see-nothing game well, even when Kim's film gets violently bloody. Kim, not satisfied with blood and brain matter slapping against the wall, embraces the ridiculous and the brutal, gleefully tossing body parts onto character actors and joyfully shooting Knoxville and Schwarzenegger as they joyfully shoot bad guys with a Gatling gun. Imagine the joy on set that day.
With each quip, each spent bullet, Schwarzenegger comes back to life from his former glory. He doesn't move as fast, and that final hand-to-hand fight with its slow fists and shaky knees has you craving more speed a la the corn-field car chase that preceded it directly. The action star has long since passed the torch to such hard-hitters as Dwayne Johnson, but that doesn't mean he can't come back and kick a little tail when he feels like it. That seems to be exactly what's going on here, Schwarzenegger seemingly having the time of his life walking through the dusty Sommerton Junction and glaring menacingly at Peter Stormare, who, you guessed it, plays a bad guy.
Kim Ji-woon's film is not without its obligatory cliches. Forest Whitaker doesn't do his lazy eye any favors looking at all those computer monitors, and Rodrigo Santro as a former veteran who begins the film locked up and pining for Alexander's Deputy Torrance. These are cliches in name only, never oppressive in their handling and often buying right into the film's hokier moments. Kim Ji-woon, and Schwarznegger for that matter, have their hearts set on hokey, and it's difficult to blame them. With this many squibs being tossed around set, how could they not hit something?
The Last Stand is a reminder that Schwarzenegger, as rickety and frayed a bridge to the action films of old as he is, can still pack a mean punch, and it leave it to a filmmaker as enthralling and as comprehensive as Kim Ji-woon to lead a new age of imported, Asian filmmakers to American success. It's always a welcome surprise when Hollywood imports talent and not ideas. The outcome is always twice as rewarding, and that's not even counting Gangnum Style. Seriously, I'm not counting that.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10