The bad news is, at no point in The Last Stand does Arnold call Johnny Knoxville a “jackass.” I’ve really been really looking forward to that cheap joke. I didn’t leave the theater disappointed though, because the good news is The Last Stand kicks ass. It’s the first English-language film from South Korean director Jee-woon Kim (I Saw the Devil) and the first leading role for Arnold since 2003′s Terminator 3. This blend of foreign aesthetics and aging icon creates a fun as hell action-comedy-western tornado.
Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold) used to be a hotshot narco in LA. After a botched raid left several of his fellow officers dead, he resigns himself to the quiet border town of Sommerton Junction, Arizona. He enjoys his sleepy existence there – having coffee at the diner every morning, cheering for the local football team, and supervising his team of three deputies. The most serious crime in Sommerton appears to be parking in a fire zone.
That is until Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), a feared Mexican cartel kingpin, escapes from FBI custody and heads for a crossing in Sommerton at 200mph. He’s a smooth character (like every cinematic Mexican cartel kingpin usually is) who’s also an experienced race car driver (like none of them usually are). That’s how he knows how to handle an experimental Chevy Corvette he’s never been behind the wheel of before. He can do anything in this car, I swear. Like maneuvering it in reverse so that FBI Humvees flip over him – shit like that.
The FBI unit, led by Forest Whitaker, is completely useless. They let Cortez slip through their fingers a bunch of times, then stand around base camp blowing pictures up on their fancy screens. But they can’t blow Cortez’s car up because he has a female FBI agent hostage, riding shotgun. After Cortez slips by a roadblock and a SWAT team, there’s nothing in his way but Sheriff Ray and his inexperienced band of misfits. I really like Whitaker. He’s such an intense, flamboyant actor and I feel like this is the first time I’ve seen him underused since Panic Room.
Jee-woon Kim sets the stage for this showdown quickly. This movie’s bare bones exposition and extra-fatty action. The wall-to-wall zany violence makes this one more a cousin of Kim’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird than I Saw the Devil, and like his previous films, there are lots of great, crowd-pleasing kills. But there’s a lot of hectic shaky cam going on during the action sequences rather than the clarity of the director’s previous films. I always prefer clear and steady action that establishes a sense of geography over that shaky crap. His stylistic flourishes make for some rowdy action and chase scenes though, and The Last Stand makes a nice crossover film for one of South Korea’s best.
Arnold takes out loads of Cortez’s goons with both guns and fists and he carries the rustiness that comes with age well. His one-liners fall a little flat, but he’s still able to dish out his typical humor and sweetness. He deadpans nicely alongside Johnny Knoxville, who plays a goofy gun fetishist that I honestly thought was supposed to be retarded. He’s done it before, right? But then I figured he’s playing it like Song Kang-ho’s loony berserker role in The Good, The Bad, The Weird.
The rest of the cast is fine, including that Matthew Saracen kid (Zach Gilford) from Friday Night Lights and character actor extraordinaire Peter Stormare. Stormare plays Cortez’s right-hand man in the U.S. He’s sort of like a wannabe gunslinger. Not because he sucks with a gun, but because he dresses like a greasy H&M model. His accent is bananas too. He does a southern drawl okay but his Swedish tongue can’t help but make it sound insane.
The Jee-woon Kim approach to directing an American action movie isn’t that much different from the Arnold classics from the ’80s and ’90s: let the violence do the talking. The economic exposition does a nice job setting up the chess pieces, then Kim fires a rocket into the board and lets the limbs fly. It’s flashy, colorful fun and a great return to leading badass status for Austrian Oak. It’s is the first good movie of 2013. Get yer ass to the theater this weekend and have some fun. You deserve it.- Patrick Cooper