“The Last Stand” is a flawed but entertaining B-action movie which could have been disappeared without notice if it had not been for two notable things. First, the movie is directed by Kim Jee-woon, a South Korean filmmaker who has made good impressions on us through “A Tale of Two Sisters”(2003), “The Good, the Bad, the Weird”(2008), and that infamous bloody revenge film “I Saw the Devil”(2010). Second, its starring actor is none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had retired from his acting career for a while due to his political activity and then has been making a gradual comeback recently.
Now he is not that muscular guy any more who used to take care of many unfortunate bad guys in his action movies during the 1980-90s, but Schwarzenegger, who is 65 at present, is still capable of holding our attention despite his wrinkled appearance. Though that does not mean that his acting quality is enhanced(his distinctive accent is same as before, by the way), he still retains some of his star quality, and, above all, he looks believable and vulnerable as an aging tough guy in this movie.
Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of a small border town named Summerton, Arizona. He came to this town after many years of his police work in LA(of course, we hear later that his last case was very tragic), and he has been enjoying the peacefulness of this remote town where nothing much happens(one character complains that only major case in the town during the last 4 days was rescuing a cat from a tree). The town becomes quieter as most of the residents including the mayor leave for a high school football game in the other town, and Owens is only annoyed by a goofy arms collector Lewis Dinkum(Johnny Knoxville), who has some loud fun with Owens’ deputies outside his certified arms museum.
While moving around the town as usual, Owens notices something very suspicious. There are sometimes strangers passing by his town, but two strangers particularly draw his attention. Not so surprisingly, they are indeed bad guys, and they are hired by a notorious drug cartel boss Gabriel Cortez(Eduardo Noriega), who, according to the federal agent John Bannister(Forest Whitaker), is the worst criminal figure since Pablo Escobar.
Cortez has been being held in FBI custody, but he makes a daring escape in Las Vegas, and, with a modified Chevrolet Corvette which can speed up to more than 200 mph(320 km/h), he will soon arrive at Summerton for crossing the US-Mexico border. I think they could have devised a better escape plan, but never mind, because his car is a good suspense device as an approaching danger and it is always nice to see a speedy sports car zooming across the big screen.
When Agent Bannister notifies him of the news about Cortez’s escape, Owens realizes he must do something to stop Cortez, so the stock characters in his town are accordingly assembled under his leadership: a plucky female deputy who is a good shooter, a jailed ex-marine who finally finds a chance to redeem himself, and, of course, a bumbling deputy who functions as a comic relief along with Dinkum. Dinkum gladly provides them the weapons from the vast storage of firearms in his museum, and I must say it looks like a vintage heaven for any ardent NRA member – he even has an old-fashioned machine gun from World War II.
While the quality of its screenplay is below average due to flat characterization and plot holes, the movie delivers its goodies as pushing its plot to the arrival point with considerable energy. Although the pace is dragged at times by its flaws including mediocre dialogues, the movie is seldom boring as a trashy action movie handled with the sense of fun and excitement, and the action sequence at the center of the town will certainly not disappoint you if you just want to have a mindless fun with explosions and bullets.
And Schwarzenegger acquits himself nicely in the movie. In these days, old guys like Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone appear in action films in spite of their age, and Schwarzenegger, who amusingly appeared with them in “The Expendables 2″(2012), shows us that he still can fight and shoot on the screen. It goes without saying that they used stunt doubles during the production, but I must say Schwarzenegger looks less cartoonish than before with his weariness, and he even imbues some gravitas to a generic moment when Owens talks about his experience in LA to a young rookie deputy who is eager to get out of his boring town.
Compared to his previous works, “The Last Stand” looks less distinctive, but the director Kim Jee-woon does some interesting things in his movie while doing his job like a hired director. There are several moments of offbeat humor, and the movie becomes a little more creative than before during its climax car chase sequence involving a vast cornfield where the escape route for Cortez is prepared.
Despite its fair share of entertainment, the movie remains as an average action film which will disappear from your memory within few days after you watch it. The familiar veteran actors including Forest Whitaker, Peter Stormare, Luis Guzmán, Eduardo Noriega, and Harry Dean Stanton merely do their jobs as paid in their limited roles; Stormare and Noriega are suitable as nasty villains, and Whitaker is mostly stuck in his thankless role, and I sort of welcomed Stanton’s brief appearance, which reminded me that he is still active in his career.
2013 will be an interesting year for the South Korean audiences because three prominent South Korean directors respectively made English-language film outside South Korea. I think “The Last Stand” will likely be regarded less favorably than Park Chan-wook’s “Stoker”(2013) and Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer”(2013), but this is not a total failure. Although I am not sure about whether it will help Kim Jee-hoon’s career in US or not, the movie is at least better than its poor US box office result suggests.