Title: The Last Stand
Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller
Director(s): Kim Jee-woon
Release Year: 2013
Rotten Tomatoes: 59%
Returning to film after a hiatus can feel a little off for both parties involved, but interesting nonetheless. Not to mention bringing an Asian director to American soil for the first time, to direct the star’s debut film after this long break. Hesitations were aplenty but it’s clear when watching The Last Stand that Kim Jee-woon knows what he’s doing, and able to both parallel Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career and provide a fun film that feels like nothing has changed since Arnold left for the political life. What Jee-woon delivers is an action film, with a long set-up but one hell of a payoff. You may walk in wondering why Schwarzenegger isn’t getting that much screen time in the first hour of the film, but you won’t be displeased with the many attempts at getting a story going because everyone is in on the joke, and ideally you’ll be in on it too by the time the film ends.
Unfortunately, The Last Stand‘s script definitely needs more polish, but at the same time, while the movie does force an hour of story upon you and trying to make you care about its inconsequential characters, it does it all with a self-aware attitude. Schwarzenegger plays a sheriff in a small town by the border between the US and Mexico. Obviously, this is where the last stand is going to take place, so you don’t need much more info than that. This town is exactly where a Mexican gangster who loves fast cars is going to try and get through in order to make it to Mexico so he isn’t able to be arrested by the FBI. Naturally, Schwarzenegger (who left the fast-paced life of the LAPD for a nice, quiet town) is compelled to stop this fugitive at all costs. Working together with his fellow officers, a gun-loving Johnny Knoxville, and one of the officer’s on-again-off-again boyfriends, the team set up to stop this criminal from getting to the border. Meanwhile we’re also shown the fugitive’s, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), escape from custody and his journey to the border. And we also get to see Forest Whitaker bark ridiculous demands like any FBI agent would, and treat Schwarzenegger like crap because he’s just a sheriff of a small town on the edge of the world.
Where The Last Stand leaves its mark is with its over-the-top approach to the action genre. It is clear that the movie is taking a more absurd approach to the action, but Jee-woon takes the tropes of the genre that would bore most and keep it all from trying to get in the way of why we’re watching the movie. And when Jee-woon delivers action, it feels fluid and kinetic, with no hesitations on showing ridiculous explosions and excessive blood. A man could explode with limbs flying everywhere, Schwarzenegger could tackle a guy off of a roof and then shoot him in the head on the way down, or ridiculous situations can occur involving the elderly or Luis Guzman. It’s clear that everyone is enjoying themselves and taking it all with a grain of salt. To make a gunfight feel fun is a hard feat because you have to either go ridiculous or show something that hasn’t been seen before. Jee-woon settles for the ridiculous, while still demonstrating he has an eye for action and even giving a pretty tense car chase sequence in a cornfield that should not work as well as it does.
Where the action feels a little withered is when Arnold is forced to be an action star. He feels like a joke when he walks on the screen, and when he delivers his lines in The Last Stand, it’s clear that they were written to be spoken by him. But to be fair, every line works because of that. When it comes to watching Arnold perform a one-on-one fight scene with our main villain, that’s when you notice Schwarzenegger just doesn’t have it in him anymore. What he does have though, is the charisma to carry more parody-feeling movies like this one to cult status. And it’s not just him who gives ridiculous dialogue but a lot of the cast do, especially Cortez who has one line that absolutely had me in stitches: “Death is waiting in the kitchen when you wake up at night for a glass of milk.” He then gives some context to why he said that, but opening with that line is a perfect embodiment of what makes this film so great. It wants you to laugh and have fun, first and foremost, then if you so choose, you can dive further into the film and dissect its flaws, but what matters is you had fun while doing so.
While The Last Stand may not be the film that would best kick-start an 8 year hiatus, it definitely is the film that shows that Schwarzenegger has been missed and has no problem finding projects to align himself with. On the other hand though, what does it mean for Kim Jee-woon and any future career he might have in North America? Well, this definitely was more a disaster for him than anybody else, despite the film being a fun romp in familiar territory. But this film does not change the fact that Jee-woon is one hell of a director, and I think he understood going in that this movie was not going to be a massive A-list film, but rather something mindless to enjoy while waiting for those bigger releases to come out later in the year. For those craving a fun action film, The Last Stand is the perfect choice, and in terms of films in theaters right now, it’s one of the better ones to pick.