It seems like old times. There are photos of Brucie, Sly and Arnie all over town advertising their new movies.
In his first starring role in 10 years, The Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger is back with exactly the right vehicle, the kind of old-fashioned B-movie action thriller that made him famous in the first place. A precision-tooled actioner, The Last Stand knows its place perfectly; no frills just thrills, no pretentions, no nods to art, no appeals to the brain or intellect, it’s just there to excite, amuse and entertain, which it does in shedloads.
It’s all about the action and a few laughs, and nobody could complain the action isn’t convincing or well staged or that it isn’t fun.
Of course you could say that loads of big guns and bodies in an American town and that glorifying violence as the best (or, indeed, only) reaction to a troublesome problem isn’t exactly a good thing in today’s climate. But, hey, the good guys are only fighting back and even then reluctantly so, and this is only a movie, harking back to the good ol’ days of John Wayne, particularly his 1959 film Rio Bravo, with a bit of Assault on Precinct 13 and a little of Clint Eastwood thrown in. With its strong 80s feel, this is vintage stuff, then, from a simpler, less complicated age.
Arnold looks pretty darned fit at 65, all things considered and slips comfortably into the character of a semi-retired Deep South small town sheriff who has to assemble a rag-tag crew to stop an asshole drugs cartel baddie getting through his territory and across the border (on a makeshift metal bridge) into Mexico and freedom. Older, a bit stiffer and slower he may be, but Arnold is credible and warm in this role, and can still do all the fights and shoot-outs the script chucks his way.
With Arnold perfectly cast as Sheriff Ray Owens, the support cast’s just right too, with Forest Whitaker ideal as the sweaty FBI agent hot on the heels of the baddie when his paid thugs break him out of custody in a prisoner convoy (with a giant magnet on the end of a crane spectacularly lifting his vehicle out of trouble).
Johnny Knoxville enjoys himself as the tricky, wacky comedy relief – local arms freak Lewis Dinkum, who is deputised by Arnold because he’s got all the weapons the goodies need. With his goofy look, daft iron helmet and shield as silly comedy props, Knoxville’s fine, though perhaps it’s lucky he doesn’t really have too much to do.
Eduardo Noriega nails the meaty role of Gabriel Cortez, the baddie with the big attitude, bigger hair, a mean streak and a streak of white in his widow’s peak, getting the snarling, moustache-twitching and lip-smacking just right. Luis Guzman is nice and nifty as the reluctant deputy and Peter Stormare (from Fargo) is neat and nasty as the baddie’s incredibly evil henchman.
There are even three fairly decent roles for women in the movie, with Jaimie Alexander (Sif in Thor) proving a strong, feisty action heroine as the sheriff’s loyal helper. If only they’d provided a better role for the great Harry Dean Stanton.
Taking time to establish characters you care about, with the action getting faster and more furious as we near the climax, The Last Stand is a blast. The film’s a big feather in the cap of South Korean director, Jee-woon Kim (The Good, The Bad, The Weird), who shows his talent and class, elevating some familiar stock scenes and set pieces that could have been mundane with a lesser director.
With the right mix of hard action and light comedy, the movie basically does exactly what it says on the tin, and that’s great for an Arnold comeback. If you thrill to see OAPs shooting up the bad guys, this is the one for you.
But the big question you’re gonna ask is: does it provide one of Arnold’s legendary catchphrases? Do you think “You fucked up my day off” will do it?