The Last Stand marks the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger as an action hero lead, plying his age for both laughs and drama. It’s vintage Arnold in many ways, but also considerably more warped than any of his earlier hits – with the sole exception of Total Recall.
When Mexican cartel boss Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega, The Devil’s Backbone, Che Guevara) escapes – as he’s being transferred to a maximum security prison – we get an indication of the power he wields. The escape requires a small army, precision timing and a lot of money. Meanwhile, another operation is preparing for Cortez’s escape to Mexico – led by the casually brutal Burrell (Peter Stormare, Constantine, Prison Break) who kills a local farmer (Harry Dean Stanton) who tried to chase him off his property.
The FBI Agent in charge, John Bannister (Forest Whitaker, Bird, ER, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior) figures he’s got Cortez’s plans figured – he’s heading for Mexico in a souped-up Corvette Zero 1 (causing a line about a low flying jets with no lights) – but even though he makes a courtesy call to small sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger), he doesn’t really think Cortez will go that way because of canyon between there and Mexico.
Owens, a former LA cop who has chosen to leave after a tragic incident, has an inexperienced force – Jerry Bailey (Zach Gilford, Super, Friday Night Lights), Sarah Torrance (Jaimie Alexander, Kyle XY, Thor) and Mike Figuerola (Luis Guzman, Oz, John from Cincinnati)) – and a town emptied for the weekend because the high school football team is playing an away game, finds himself in a potentially tough spot. Tough enough to deputize a couple of disreputable sorts – weapons nut (and alleged museum owner) Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville, Jackass) and Sarah’s ex, Frank Martino (Rodrigo Santoro, 300) to try to stop Cortez.
Korean director Jee-woon Kim brings a level of crazy to The Last Stand that feels much like his The Good, The Bad and The Weird. There are sequences that are so wacked out that they defy description (a car chase through a field of corn, for instance) and some of the variations on the casual violence that has always been a part of Schwarzenegger’s biggest hits – as in the setting up of a roadblock and on Main Street and the ensuing mayhem (including an explosive new use for a flare gun).
The humor – much is made of Owens’ age, and Dinkum’s naming of various of his favorite pieces as just two examples – resembles the humor we expect in one of Arnold’s action films, only skewed a few degrees in unexpected directions, and Schwarzenegger, himself, plays the weary sheriff whose day off is being ruined with just the right amount of exasperation and a slow burning anger that is explosive when he finally confronts Cortez. ‘I’m da sheriff’ may not be as memorable as ‘I’ll be back,’ but most of the film’s one-liners are better than average and Arnold can still deliver them with his own unique brand of style.
The Last Stand is goofy summer fun in the middle of winter. It’s an example of how to make an old-fashioned action flick without succumbing to parody or playing up the irony beyond a few moments of sharply effective satire (and no one satirizes Arnold better than Arnold). It’s familiar and weirdly unfamiliar at the same time – the beats are the ones we expect, but they don’t necessarily come where we expect them – but when they come, they generally land very effectively.
Final Grade: A-