Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Cinema File #99: "The Last Stand" Review

Not being a resident of California where he just spent the last decade fucking up the local economy like it was his live in housemaid, I still have the luxury of loving the crap out of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Doesn't matter if he's fighting robots, clones, terrorists, or even the Devil himself, if Arnie's in it, I'm there. Hell, I even liked The Last Action Hero, F. Murray Abraham and all. Coincidentally, his latest film is shaping up to be his biggest box office bomb since that one, and while I definitely wouldn't come close to calling it my favorite, The Last Stand eventually gets around to being a solid Schwarzenegger joint that left this long time fan more than satisfied.

The Last Stand finds our favorite Austrian in a small Arizona border town in the role of the local sheriff who has to rally together a motley crew to help him stop a gang of criminals from tearing through his home to make way for an escaped fugitive in a super rocket car. If you want to reflexively scoff at anything in that last sentence, than so be it, but I don't want to know you. Okay, truth be told, the set up isn't as exciting as it could be, mostly because we don't really get any solid Arnold action until at least the 45 minute mark, instead spending most of our time with an ultimately underwhelming villain and the useless federal authorities failing to stop him. The movie doesn't get good until the second half when our two forces meet head on. It's almost like the reverse of Looper, starting off boring but ending great, which I would argue is a little more forgivable in a movie.

That being said, a lot of my lukewarm reaction to the first half probably stems from my own bias, as it is a lot of Fast and Furious style car chase action sequence stuff that just simply does not appeal to me. If that's you're thing and you're still a human being, and as such able to appreciate Arnold kicking some ass, then you'll probably dig this one from beginning to end. For me, a lot of these early scenes leading up to the second and third acts feel like filler, and particularly slow and dragging filler at that. I get the feeling they were trying to go out of their way to establish Schwarzenegger as over the hill and the villain as young and bad ass to set up the reversal in the end, but because neither premise is convincing, it just feels like wasted time. The Last Stand doesn't truly come into its own until it finally gets to the actual last stand, at which point my interest was almost instantly piqued and for the most part never wavered.

The second half of this movie, once Arnold is finally put in a position to unleash the full fury of his awesomeness upon these unsuspecting bad guys, is up there with the best of them, at least in terms of the non-sci-fi section of the actor's filmography. I didn't realize how much I missed old Arnold in movies until I saw him throw a guy and himself off a building, shoot the other guy in the face in mid air, and then use his victim's dead body to break his fall. He's so awesome, he even makes the people around him, at least two of whom I almost always dislike, seem cool by proxy. Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzman show up as the comic relief, and I was practically wincing in anticipation of their annoying contribution to the film, but they're both actually fairly toned down, and even get a few genuinely funny and kick ass moments in without wearing out their welcome.

I shouldn't have to say the movie is predictable. Its got every action movie cliche in the book up to and including the naive character who dies so the hero can be extra motivated to kick some ass. Frankly, I wouldn't want it any other way. The climactic scene on the bridge as Arnold and his adversary duke it out mano a mano inches from the Mexican border should prove to anyone who doubts Schwarzenegger's continued capacity as an action star that he's still got a lot of years left in him. Admittedly the film's bad guys are especially weak both in general and in comparison to the hero, with Eduardo Noriega's drug kingpin never quite coming off as threatening, and Peter Stormare failing miserably at a Southern accent that leaves me unable to take anything he says or does seriously.

Still, the second hour of The Last Stand is pretty much all pay off, so I can't complain too much. Just come in late, or if you wait for DVD, skip to about the half way point, and your in for a good chunk of classic Schwarzenegger carnage. If you are excited enough at the prospect of seeing the old guy on the big screen again, I'd suggest doing it fast, as I don't think it will be up there for long. Even with all its faults, I still hope its poor performance doesn't make The Last Stand the last time Arnold gets to throw down.

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