(This review originally appeared at Reel Film News on January 18, 2013.)
Here’s my thing about The Last Stand: it wants to be AWESOME without first being good. All the materials necessary to making an unforgettable movie are there – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen in a lead role, prankster Johnny Knoxville’s own brand of mischief, pretty girls, and some ridiculous gun battles and explosions. Yet, none of it is used to any great extent, except for what feel like token insertions into the film. What winds up onscreen is a very decent made-for-cable movie with a larger-than-cable budget, without any of the gore or swearing censored. Maybe it’s because of the marketing that I was led to believe that this would be a kind of buddy-cop movie with Schwarzenegger playing straight man to Knoxville’s typical idiot; at least, that’s kind of the movie I was hoping for. Instead, The Last Stand comes off a little like a smaller-budgeted version of 2003’s S.W.A.T., almost down to the last betrayal and villain’s hairstyle.
It’s a movie full of stock-standard tropes: the young-ish drug cartel kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) gets broken out by a traitorous FBI agent (Genesis Rodriguez), with the inept FBI commander (Forest Whitaker) doing nothing much but showing how smart he’s not. The only thing standing in the way of Cortez’s run for the Mexican border is a ragtag group of small town law enforcement officials, led by Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger). Upon meeting Owens’ team, you almost instantly recognize who’s going to get shot, who’s going to die, who’s going to get shot but not die, who’s going to chicken out (but turn up firing a honkin’ huge machine gun viciously), and who’s going to be the one guy left standing to defend the American Way. Playing out in almost a real-time fashion, the clock races as Cortez speeds towards the border and the body count starts to pile up.
The Last Stand is definitely a throwback movie, the likes of which wouldn’t be out of place sitting next to 2007’s Grindhouse or most of the great actioners that made 1980s action cinema so memorable. But here’s part of what feeds into my disappointment with The Last Stand: it’s just not memorable. Not in the way that ‘80s action film staples like Lethal Weapon 2, Die Hard, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Commando, and others were so memorable. Those films had scripts ranging from the horrible to the wonderful, but there was always something charming and quotable to go along with it. Andrew Knauer’s script just doesn’t have that “pop” that good movies do; instead, he’s chosen to fill it with characters and sound bites that have been around for decades upon decades, thus making the movie tired before it hits the first thirty minutes. Even the woman next to me was saying some of the lines before they were spoken onscreen, which cemented the belief for me that The Last Stand is simply stale. While we’re on the subject, why is it that all filmic drug cartel kingpins have the same hair? From Jordi Mollà in Bad Boys II, to Olivier Martinez in S.W.A.T., to Noriega in this movie, it’s that same neck-length haircut and the swarthy looks… If it’s a stereotype, I’m unaware of it. If it’s a trope, it’s starting to get unimaginative.
That’s not to say that The Last Stand is devoid of charm; on the contrary, I really appreciated Schwarzenegger playing up his age and playing it logically. Well, at least for the most part, anyway – there’s one stunt that he walks away from that is just kind of unbelievable, but that’s part of what I did like about this movie. To see him take on a man more than half his age (albeit with the aid of CGI and stuntmen) makes me happy, and his gunfighting skills seem to have never wavered in his ten-year absence from lead roles. Director Jee-Woon Kim knows when to pull his cards out and show them, and he seems to have a good feel for action sequences and keeping things interesting. He’ll give us everything when the film needs it – he carefully (a little too carefully, in my opinion) measures out doses of Knoxville’s insanity and Schwarzenegger’s brawn in ways that will have the audiences whooping and laughing at the appropriate parts. However, the script will more than likely have the audience laughing at the wrong parts, or groaning with “Oh, THAT line again?!” Make no mistake, The Last Stand is not a bad movie – there are parts that many will enjoy, and there are certainly parts that I enjoyed. But it just doesn’t resonate the way that the filmmakers seem to want it to resonate; the pacing is deliberately slow, but at times, it is maddening; and the actors look like they’re merely trying to ape the sentiment and the feel of ‘80s action movies without actually delivering it.