In the 1980s action flicks were a dime a dozen. Excessive violence, highly unlikely circumstances, bulky men and pretty women ruled the screen. And, by divine action movie formula, every great flick in the genre had at least one obscenely big gun, such as a Gatling gun or rocket launcher, for the situation. It was like clockwork.
“The Last Stand,” directed by Jee-woon Kim, pays its respects to the movies of old, and while there are some lows, it does its job well.
Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger, “The Expendables 2”) is the sheriff of Sommerton Junction, a small town near the border of Mexico. It’s the weekend of a big football game, so while half the town is away, Ray and his band of inept officers are left to watch the tumbleweeds. Meanwhile, drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Norlega, “Blackthorn”) escapes from an FBI prisoner convoy and is speeding down towards the border at 200 mph in a stolen vehicle. When Ray starts to see signs of trouble in his town and hears about the escape, he must pull out all of his tricks to keep Gabriel from crossing the border and escaping capture.
“The Last Stand” isn’t just an action flick. It’s also a comedy. While both genres are adequately represented, they aren’t necessarily meshed in all the right ways. Situations meant to be funny lead into serious ones that make the jokes of the previous scene seem out of place and less amusing. Situations meant to be serious sometimes come off comical, and the value of the moment is sometimes lost.
Possibly the worst part is when the characters set up a joke but don’t end it. When Officer Figuerola (Luis Guzmán, “Departure Date”) puts on a sword and defends his choice to Sheriff Owen by saying, “You never know,” he needs to finish the joke by at least trying to use the sword later on.
Another less than awesome trend in the movie is its extreme reliance on coincidence. Coincidentally, half the town is out supporting its local football team for the one weekend where explosions are happening. Coincidentally, the villain has been driving racecars all his life and can handle speeds of 200 mph for hours on end. There just so happened to be a modified Corvette ZR1, which can reach speeds of 200 mph, on display in a Los Angeles car show immediately before Cortez’s escape, and his lackeys are able to steal it for him. There are plenty more on top of that as well.
While each coincidence is set up appropriately, you can see what its purpose is immediately, and the plot ends up feeling cheap.
Another issue is that Schwarzenegger isn’t in the movie enough. He’s barely in the first half, only popping in whenever we need to be reminded that this is supposed to be his comeback role. By the middle he becomes more of the focal point, but by the end, his role as a badass is properly realized.
The people who go to see this movie are going to see Schwarzenegger back in action, not the movie itself. The audience is drawn to him and his name, so unless the rest of the movie is going to be amazing on its own, the whole thing needs to revolve around him. This film doesn’t do that until it’s nearly too late.
The cons are surprisingly equal to the small good things, like genuine character development in multiple people (a wonderful surprise). Little to no CGI is detectable, which makes the authenticity if the 1980s action flick ring true. There is an excess of violence and gore without edging into horror genres, lots of guns and even a well-timed car chase. The formula is lovingly met and honored, and the action icon audiences want to see is eventually given his appropriate moment of glory.
If you’re on the fence about whether you want to see the movie, join the club. Even though Schwarzenegger himself did well in his comeback role, the movie is less than extraordinary, and it may truly end up being his last stand.