The sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction is about to get a whole lot louder after the ruthless cartel kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) escapes the custody of the FBI while being transferred to a new location and plots a course straight to Mexico right down main street Sommerton. As FBI agent Bannister (Forest Whitaker) tries everything in his power to stop Cortez from reaching the border, it soon becomes the duty of Sommerton's Sheriff, Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former city cop looking for a quiet place to retire, to put a detour in his travel plans. Using the town as a virtual road block, Owens along with his deputies and other townsfolk get ready to hold their ground in a last ditch effort to stop Cortez dead in his tracks.
Developed as a vehicle to re-introduce Schwarzenegger back into the public eye, director Jee-woon Kim's new film "The Last Stand" provides the Austrian born mega star's fanbase with all the bells and whistles expected from an Arnie-style action flick. Arnold is pushing 70 years old at this point in his career and although he is still in phenomenal shape for his age, he just isn't capable of performing at the same level or with the same amount of gusto he once had but he and Kim are out to prove that there is still plenty of gas in his tank. Kim's film finds that perfect balance of giving us some classic Arnold action with the caveats that come with old age. Despite the film being little more than a retread of every action movie ever made, it succeeds at what it needed to, providing Arnold with the perfect platform to signify his return to the big screen.
What exactly are the key ingredients and core mechanics behind a successful Arnold Schwarzenegger action film? A straight forward story with little in the way of complications (romance is hardly ever a concern), plenty of action that is liberally spread throughout, an appropriately despicable villain along with a consistent and deliberate pace building up to an eventual finale where Arnold would mow down every single bad guy that gets in his way. Lastly, what would any Arnold movie be without a little tongue-in-cheek humor to balance all the excessive violence? While the results here range from dead on to mildly successful, it is essentially just a big dumb action flick and just so long as you treat it as such, you will have quite a good time with it.
The biggest concern many fans likely had with Arnold's first true action film in almost a decade ("The Expendables" not withstanding), is how they would address his age. The obvious and eye rolling approach would have been to play it up with gag after gag and to borrow a line from the "Lethal Weapon" series, constantly reminding us that he is, "told old for this s**t". Thankfully nobody thought that was a good idea and instead of poking fun at it and using it as a platform to sell tired old jokes, they play Arnold's age as matter of fact and that approach pays off in the end with Arnold turning in a much more humble and down to Earth performance than most will be expecting. Don't worry, when the action kicks in he is that same old Arnold we all love, but the build up is much more methodically paced than what is the norm for the action star. The role suits him quite well and does a fantastic job of easing him back into the action in a surprisingly believable way.
That is quite possibly the best aspect to the entire film, its slow build. We don't actually see Arnie gun down his first bad guy until at least half way into the film, which for any non-Arnie fans out there is a lifetime. Kim knows that everyone came out to see Arnie kick some good ole fashioned a** and teases that prospect beautifully. It's your typical western premise with the Sheriff having a weekend off expecting a quiet next couple of days for his small town (there's even an old fashioned shoot out at the center of town between Arnold and the bad guys!). His handful of deputies are a mixed bag of cliche's as well with the experienced deputy (Luiz Guzman), inexperienced deputy (Jamie Alexander) and naive but optimistic deputy (Zach Gilford). There is even the pompous a** mayor with the nice new car (wonder if anything is gonna happen to it?), the stubborn old farmer (Harry Dean Stanton) who always delivers his milk on time, the crazy loner gun freak (Johnny Knoxville) whose abnormal love of antique weaponry might come in handy some day and of course the guy (Rodrigo Santoro) locked up in jail over the weekend to cool down.
Those cliches, amongst many more, are what this film was built around though. It never tries to be anything more than what it is. It is an action movie with an admittedly wafer thin plot, but it's still a pretty solid one in the end. Kim even throws in some interesting little bits to help rejuvenate the tired formula. One of the more entertaining and inventive parts of the film is Cortez's escape. Not how he is broken free from the clutches of the FBI that is, that stuff is pretty run of the mill but like the rest of the film, well executed. The originality comes in the form of how Cortez drives himself cross country in what basically amounts to a super car. It's all rather silly when you think about it (why not try to leave under the radar instead of making a big show out of it?), but as we slowly build to the eventual showdown in Arnie's town, it all works surprisingly well to create tension between what seems like an unstoppable force and where he is headed. That's what we want though, to see Arnie face off against an unstoppable force and stop it dead in its tracks and Kim delivers.
"The Last Stand" is a rousing success on those merits alone. By the time Cortez comes ripping through Sommerton you will be feeling an adrenaline rush that will feel all but familiar to action fans everywhere. It's all about setting up the stakes, giving Arnie the reason to come out of his shell and exact justice in his trademark fashion, with a slight bit of ageism thrown in there of course and a few one liners to sweeten the package. Arnold fans will have no room to complain as the action star still comes through as expected, albeit a little slower of course. But watching him stand tall and gun down a bad guy after spouting a cool one-liner is something most of us action fans have been waiting for the past decade and he doesn't disappoint.
Other than this being a call to arms for Arnold fans, this is still an action movie when all is said and done which begs the question, is it any good on that front alone?. The answer is sadly a mixture of yes and no. While it doesn't do anything particularly awe inspiring or set any new benchmarks for the genre, director Jee-woon Kim does serve up some interesting action set pieces and provides plenty of bad guys that you will love to hate (the always menacing Peter Stormare was a welcome addition in that regard). And they take them down in some good ole fashioned gun and fist fights that will leave the quiet town of Sommerton a bloody mess when it is all over. Kim also spices up the festivities with some rather well done car stunts which concludes in a pretty nifty chase through some corn fields. The film overall strikes a fine balance between over the top action and a grounded sense of realism which was a very welcome change of pace from the average Arnie action flick and helps give this one in particular its own style.
In the end, "The Last Stand" is a serviceable action movie and a successful relaunching of Arnie back into the mix. If you have never been too keen on Arnold or his past films then you won't likely take much from the experience. However, with age comes wisdom and a more humbled Arnold may just sway some of you who were turned off by the ego driven muscle man of the 80's and 90's. Arnold's return to the big screen may not be the action extravaganza most were expecting nor is it the best action movie ever made, but that isn't what it set out to be. Looked upon solely as a film to re-introduce Arnold back to the masses, it works and there is no Arnie fan out there that can deny how cool it is to see the big man back in action, no matter how old he is.