What You’ll Like:
- Very likeable and upbeat cast of characters
- All around fun and entertaining action with skillful direction
- Film is cutely aware of itself
- Arny is back!
What You May Not:
- Substandard villains with shallow intentions and motivations
- Scope is not nearly as big as past Arny flicks
- Jumps the shark at times with some elements that break the laws of physics
- Arny’s acting is as average as ever
What You’ll Remember:
- The nicely modified 1,000 horsepower ZR1 Corvette topping at over 200mph
Well he said he’d be back. After taking over as governor of California in 2003, the general public had perceived that action hero legend Arnold Schwarzenegger had perhaps given up on life as an action star, yet to no worries proving them (and even himself) wrong with his return in a smaller role for the recent Expendables films. Incoming The Last Stand, Arny finally gets his own starring role as a sheriff of a very small and rural American mid-western town, a role more fitting to his now older age. Viewing many action shots it is clear that although Schwarzenegger does genuinely try, we may unfortunately never see him pull off stunts to the same caliber as those in his 80s and 90s prime. Fortunately for us action sci-fi/horror Korean director Kim Jee-Woon, making his American film directing debut, ultimately impresses with some intelligent and skilled directorial chops, granting us a set of performances and action sequences mostly worthy of the Arnold stamp, even if most perhaps being pulled straight from the Action 101 Hollywood textbook.
The Last Stand tells the story of a small town sheriff named Ray Owens, played with the usual dimwitted but respectable passion by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and an escaped drug lord criminal named Gabriel Cortez’s plans to cross the border into Mexico but having to first pass through the rural town in order to get there. Owens is the lawman who will stand in Cortez’s way before seeing his hometown invaded by criminals, despite being some pretty high-stake ones compared to the lowly local police. Cortez is played by Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega, and is introduced as a federal prisoner who is being transferred by FBI units led by agent John Bannister played by Forest Whitaker, who is thankfully still agile enough for this fairly intense role. Cortez and a small gang of his henchmen execute a meticulous plan of escape, leaving the FBI baffled as to their location. During this entire escapade we are also introduced to various characters in the small town of Sommerton, where sheriff Ray Owens is enjoying his relaxing day off, meanwhile his small band of deputies are up to some mild hijinks with local gun nut and man-boy Lewis, played with average comedic deliverance by Johney Knoxville. In addition are three co-stars as deputies supporting Owens’ role – bumbling gentleman Mike, played by Luis Guzman; local small time thief and former deputy Sam, played by Mathew Greer; and Sam’s love interest ex-girlfriend Sarah, played by Jaimie Alexander. Now, despite the basically average performances by mostly the entire cast, Stand does have some pretty entertaining scenes to get us a bit more acquainted with said characters, including some comedic moments with Schwarzenegger and Knoxville help round things off. What helps here is the calm and sweet setting of an innocent and mostly helpless little town, working to get us to feel a certain sympathetic attachment to everyone, not also neglecting the extras in the town diner who do their share of comic relief. Perhaps such feelings could be due to recent true life tragic events in small towns that would maybe give anyone a certain soft spot for quaint places like Stand’s town of Sommerton. These extra small efforts in establishing cute character moments does pay off towards the meat of the film, being that of the intense mid-town fire fight towards the final act once the henchmen make their way to the town’s main streets. While some elements of the fight do jump the shark at times, they are still directed with as much finesse as necessary to keep your attention, at times more fervently; and this form of sheer entertaining action really acts as Stand’s killer app. That is to say, the central factor that gives this the honor of earning your precious viewing time.
Displaying light elements of sarcasm and cutesy humor, Stand does make it a point to show its audience that it is in fact aware of itself. No, there will be no sort of awards heading Stand’s way, nor is there anything really all that original on show here, as the script seems to prefer a safer passage by not taking any real risks with plot twists, morals, philosophies, or complex relationships. Mostly it feels perfectly happy tossing some cheap fluffy lines your way along with a few typical plot conveniences for the sake of something comedic – a granny shooting a henchman, gun jams at just the right moment to give a protagonist an opportunity for a funny kill, and vehicles defying the laws of physics, etc. Yet what is important here is if the comedy makes you laugh, and for that Stand mostly succeeds; could we expect anything else from Arnold? Stand’s sole existing purpose seems to give its audience a good time, and judging from the performances from every character, good actor or not, it makes it evident that they were all having an absolute blast filming it. Actors enjoying themselves in turn makes Stand a plain ol’ fun joy ride of gun-blasting entertaining hokum. It’s just a bit of a shame that more depth wasn’t given to the film’s villains to make them just as passably charming, or perhaps a bit more, than the film’s very likable protagonist cast.
As stated earlier, Gabriel Cortez (Noriega) is the villain attempting to cross the border into Mexico, because well, once he’s in there he’s a free man, despite all the FBI’s efforts (place cliche flag here). Efforts that aren’t the most realistic as they do not seem to think to utilize much of today’s technology that would make their jobs a lot easier (maybe satellite tracking would help?). Cortez’s gang of henchmen are led by the slick guy with the Spanish accent, Burrell, played by Peter Stormare, who just like everyone else, does a good enough job. Cortez makes his way towards the border in the only non-human star of the film, a highly modified Corvette ZR1 which can top over 200 miles per hour, and granted its amount of screen time as well as the very average performance by Noriega, the car ends up being significantly more memorable than the character. Being merely the start of what could have been written better, the villains not only have no actual purpose than just to cross the border, we also are never given any sort of real visual background on Cortez or ever see what made him top the FBI’s most wanted list, but instead characters do nothing else but gasp at the sound of his name. Yea, we kinda need a little bit more than that. Sure, so his henchmen engage is a firefight with Schwarzenegger and his charming little deputy gang, but since these baddies are just more of a textbook necessity than a real threat, it’s a saving grace that Jee-Woon is so good at filming action sequences. Good editing, bombastically intense gunshots, close-up camera angles, fast pacing, and gripping car chase scenes, Jee-Woon makes quite a showing for his American debut, it’s just too bad that the script he had to work with offers nothing original. On the plus side, what does happen to make Stand’s villains even somewhat intensifying is not even to be given to their credit but instead to the credit of the protagonists. When the small band of deputies are gearing up for the villains to arrive, the film takes the opportunity to display some cute antics to build characterization. This is effect gives the audience a comparison to the more slick and professionally criminal minds of the villains, as well as their more high-tech automatic weaponry, contrasting well to the simplistic western shotguns and handguns of local law enforcement, as well as a set of characters who have never dealt with such a threat. It works to not only makes the deputies more relatable, but also builds audience compassion.
Even with such a standard action film, Stand is proof that even such a script can still be worth your hard earned dollars. Sure, Stand doesn’t have anywhere near the scope of some of Arnold’s previous Hollywood blockbusters. There are no international conspiracies, highly organized crime syndicates, outer planets filled with aliens, monstrous creatures, or anything sci-fi related whatsoever. Not a problem though, as The Last Stand holds its own as a hokey, yet very entertaining and fun action film. It garners enough curse words and bloodshed to warrant its R rating, not to also mention a couple of pretty intense deaths to take Arnold fanatics back to his gorier heyday. So yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger has aged, and this role as a local aged sheriff is perhaps the most optimal idea for someone of his now lesser physical ability. Even in one fist fight scene it is pretty apparent to the investigative eye that many of his shots are filmed using a stunt double. To require such an aid for a fist fight goes to show that even though Arnold perhaps can no longer really compete with the Stathams and Dwayne Johnsons of today, he still deserves good credit for being able to pull of what he can.
A fulfilling bunch. Here we have four behind the scenes featurettes, including one major one taking us to some good detail to the filming process, including cast and directorial interviews, running at 28 minutes. There is a shorter 11-minute feature discussing the film’s most creative car chase scene, a third 11-minute feature going into great detail about the film’s weaponry (a must for gun fanatics), and a shorter feature in a more raw documentary style using a basic handheld camera filmed by Johney Knoxville himself. Aside from this we get a good handful of not only deleted but also extended scenes. All in all there is a worthy and satisfying bunch here that many current blu-ray films seem to be severely lacking.
Graphics and Sound:
Mostly good news. The Last Stand has a very clear and smooth HD picture, without any noticeable noise distortion whatsoever, even in all TV display modes. Night scenes look the best as the blacks are pleasingly deep and street light glares are beautifully crisp and clean. Sure, there are some better visual transfers out there, but Stand has no significant flaws at all, and is even detailed enough to highlight all of Schwarzenegger’s 60+ year wrinkles. Since most of the film takes place during the bright daylight, the contrast never becomes too distracting despite the overly zealous sun and clear weather. On the audible side of things, Stand is another example of passably good volume during quieter scenes, which quickly become forcefully loud during action scenes, even to a hint of perhaps being even a tad obnoxious, yet is something that will please traditionalists. I could see things become a bit piercing with the right surround system, but it just a bit unbalanced with the volume level. Despite volume, all dialogue and sound effects are as clear as one would expect from a new blu-ray, so no significant issues anywhere despite that some may want to keep the volume button handy during viewing.
While The Last Stand may not be the epic return some may have been expecting from Schwarzenegger, such expectations are a bit unrealistic considering the actor’s age. But from the amount of work he puts into Stand, it is definitely an impressive affair. With a fun all around relatable and likeable cast, fast paced and well directed action sequences, and Arny himself, does make for not a completely brainless piece of entertainment, but does make for a pretty good time on a weekend night. Seeing as how the brand new retail price is surprisingly low at $14.99, the production studio may just feel the same way most critics have about it. The Last Stand makes for a fun rental that never bores, even if you may find yourself rolling your eyes a couple of times. I’d say 2.5 Jim Harpers out of 4. …and if you recognize that one reference, maybe 2.75 Jim Harpers.