As you may have figured out by now, I have a soft spot in my heart for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
While Arnold has never been what you would call a "good actor" (or in fact, what you might even call an "actor") he IS a major screen presence. What he lacks in emotional response and capable line readings, he makes up for with pure movie charisma.
Of course, having grown up in the 80's, Arnold was omnipresent. I'm sure the first of his films that I saw was The Terminator, on a grainy VHS tape at a grade school friend's birthday party. And even though I was technically too young to be watching them, you can be sure that I saw Commando and Predator a dozen or more times via rentals and television showings. There was no getting away from Arnold in the 80's and early 90's.
Eventually his star began to wane as his pictures began to suck, and after Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, he retired from acting altogether to become the governor of California. That...that is still hard to wrap my head around.
Anyway, Arnold's public service came to an end, and now he is going back to his first love, movie starring.
The impact of his return to movies was lessened by cameos in The Expendables and The Expendables II: An Unexpected Journey into the Undiscovered Country. His presence in those films, as minor as it is, seems to have robbed his proper return to the big screen of some of its cultural oomph.
That being said, for his big return Arnold was smart enough to let himself be paired up with an accomplished director, Kim Jee-Woon, probably most well known for I Saw the Devil. And the parts of The Last Stand that work can probably be directly attributed to the director.
TLS is yet another retread of the Rio Bravo scenario, in which a small band of seriously outgunned folks must come together to fight an overwhelming swarm of bad guys. It has been trotted out time and again, most notably in Night of the Living Dead and John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13. And the reason people keep using this basic plot is, simply, it tends to work.
In this particular iteration of the theme, Arnold plays Ray Owens (look for my post on the increasingly unlikely names of Arnold Schwarzenegger movie characters to be posted in the next day or so), a former LAPD officer who left the bloodiness of the big city behind to become sheriff of a small town called Sommerton Junction.
Little did he know that the world's most amazing Mexican drug lord, Gabriel Cortez (again, this movie isn't great with names) would make a break for the border, and the only way back home is through Ray's little town.
It sometimes feels like there are two or three movies happening at once; one is about Cortez, who is part Mexican Scarface, part Harry Houdini, and 100% unlikely in the real world. His daredevil escape from FBI custody in Las Vegas beggars belief, as does his unstoppable run to the border in a souped up Corvette. Of course, if you're willing to believe that Arnold is actually "Ray Owens", I guess the rest of the movie is pretty easy to swallow.
The second movie is about Forest Whitaker, who plays an FBI head who is hunting Cortez, while he's not wondering what the hell happened to his career. Ghost Dog, an Oscar for playing Idi Amin...man, this is a rough break. Oh well. He does the best he can with the Fugitive-Lite scenario.
Then there is the third movie, in which Ray/Arnold is the sheriff of a movie-style small town; his three deputies are: Comic Relief (Luis Guzman, in the Luis Guzman role), The Rookie Who is Certainly Doomed to Ironic Death, and :snicker: a GIRL.
Conveniently for all involved, MOST of the town is away for the weekend, something about a cheerleading competition or a football game in Ca-lee-fornia, or something. I wasn't paying attention. The point is, it's a town, but 95% of its inhabitants are gone for the weekend, which makes it easier/cheaper to shoot the movie. Fewer characters to juggle, fewer actors to pay. Makes sense.
Meanwhile, there is a band of mercenaries that comes to town to build an honest to god BRIDGE over a canyon for Cortez, so he can just zip on over to Mexico. Their presence doesn't go completely unnoticed, but still, Harry Dean Stanton (in a much too brief cameo...who doesn't want more Harry Dean Stanton?) has to be gunned off of his tractor before anyone seems to notice that there's a huge covert construction project happening on the outskirts of town.
For what I believe is the first time ever, the award for Most Impenetrable Accent in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie does NOT go to Arnold himself. Instead, that honor belongs to Peter Stormare, who presents us with some sort of Texas via Sweden mishmash which truly, utterly confused me. Well done, Peter.
Peter plays the leader of the mercenaries, who is responsible for building the bridge, killing innocent people, leering at women, and again, speaking in tongues. I like Peter Stormare. I usually like him because he's so fucking WEIRD. He doesn't disappoint on that count here.
Of course, eventually Cortez's killers come to the small town to clear a path, and Arnold and his ragtag squad of upstanding citizens (which comes to include Johnny Knoxville, playing a character whose name I can't remember, but whom could just as easily be referred to as "Needed a Paycheck Until the Next Jackass Movie") are there to head them off.
So, that's the set up, but how is it?
Here's the thing. Arnold has been in some truly great movies (Conan the Barbarian, the Terminator films, Predator, True Lies) as well as some movies that may not be great, but are still great fun (Commando, Total Recall, The Eraser, Running Man). He's also been in some kinda crappy movies that are still fun because he's in them (Last Action Hero, Raw Deal, Red Heat). And then there is a litany of bad movies that both suck at being movies as well as sucking at being Arnold movies (The Sixth Day, Collateral Damage, End of Days).
Where does The Last Stand fall in that mix?
Well, it's not a Truly Great Movie, that's a safe bet.
But it's not a bad movie, nor is it necessarily a bad Arnold movie, although there are huge swaths of time that pass without Arnold in the movie at all.
So, that means it falls somewhere between "fun, decent movies" and "bad movies that are fun because it's Arnold".
The story is what it is, and I feel like the director probably did what he could with the material. There's only so much turd polishing you can do before you get turd on your polishing cloth. The performances work within the confines of what they were given to work with. It has Luis Guzman, and the girl that played Sif in Thor. It has Ghost Dog, ferchrissakes.
You might find yourself twiddling your thumbs through the implausibilities and braindead dialogue of the first 2/3rds of the movie. But once it kicks in, it really kicks in.
Guns! Explosions! A machine gun loaded into the back of a school bus! Car chases! Stunt work! People getting BLOWN UP! He's still not an actor, and he is looking ancient as hell (that governorship must have been REALLY rough, Jesus!) but few people can gun down bad guys with machine-like efficiency as well as our Austrian Oak.
In conclusion, with The Last Stand, you don't get a masterpiece, but you do get better than what you probably expected, and the last act of the film is an old fashioned blood bath that had me rolling in my seat. So, let's say that it exceeds meager expectations, and be happy with that. If you're a fan of Arnold, there is something here for you to enjoy, at least enough to give it a try. Welcome back, Arnie. Let's get to work on King Conan, ok?