It’s not unreasonable for those with fond memories of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic action films to expect something special from The Last Stand. With marketing that highlights its campy humor and over-the-top action, a lead star action fans are dying to see back on the big screen and a competent director known for some fantastic foreign films, including A Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw the Devil, all signs pointed to something fun. Those moments of fun occasionally shine through, but they’re not prominent enough to make the film more than a mildly pleasant diversion. Aside from his expanded role in last year’s explosive The Expendables 2, Schwarzenegger hasn’t been in a big action movie since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. His more than welcome comeback should not have been The Last Stand.
Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, an ex-Los Angeles narcotics officer. After seeing enough bloodshed to last a lifetime, he moved south to a small town called Sommerton County where he now works as the local sheriff. It’s a pretty quiet place that enjoys being tucked away from the rest of society. Further north, a vicious cartel boss named Gabriel Cortez, played by Eduardo Noriega, is being transported to death row by the FBI, led by Agent John Bannister, played by Forest Whitaker. However, with the help of some friends, he escapes and he begins to make his way south, hoping to cross the border safely into Mexico. Ray is warned of the impending danger and instead of running away, he decides he’s going to stop Eduardo at all costs.
There’s a fine line one must walk when making an action movie such as this. Without a true understanding of what makes something camp and what makes something just plain stupid, it’s easy to veer off in the latter direction when the former is intended. The Last Stand doesn’t quite know what it’s trying to be, so much of its would-be camp that one would want someone to laugh at instead becomes something that causes eyes to roll. There’s a balance the film tries to strike between seriousness and ridiculous fun, but the contradictory parts don’t play off each other. One minute the film is cracking jokes and the next, it’s killing off a character that the film obviously thought we would care about more than we actually do, uncomfortably ramping up the drama to excess (complete with a manipulative soundtrack).
None of these moments work, only managing to highlight the confused tone the film unintentionally presents. The Last Stand is at its best when it’s at its most violent. When it stops screwing around and gives the audience exactly what it wants, it hearkens back to Schwarzenegger’s glory days, when he protected the innocent by slaughtering literally anything around him that moved, and boy is it fun. Nothing brings the nostalgia of 80s and 90s action films back like good old Arnold fearlessly walking into the line of fire brandishing a shotgun. Not surprisingly, that’s when he appears most comfortable onscreen and when he suddenly makes his appearance in the first shootout, mowing people down with a car and firing out the side of his window, you may have to fight the urge to stand up and cheer.
Granted, Schwarzenegger was never a high caliber actor, but what little he did possess seems to have withered with old age and cinematic inactivity. Some of this could be due to the ill-advised dramatic angles he’s forced to play with, but his line delivery is nevertheless stilted and unconvincing. Couple that with an unintimidating villain, who sends his unnamed lackeys to do his bidding more often than himself, and you have both a protagonist and antagonist that aren’t compelling enough to make the story pop. Worst of all, the film shoehorns in a late, uninvolving car chase that doesn’t highlight Arnold’s physical prowess. Simply put, the build to this moment promises more than it delivers.
I suppose it should be clarified that The Last Stand isn’t a particularly bad movie—it has some stylish action, some fun supporting performances (mostly from the underutilized Johnny Knoxville) and one excellent one-liner that’s guaranteed to earn a place in the pantheon of Schwarzenegger one-liners—it’s just disappointing, certainly not the return to form many will expect. With at least six more projects down the pipeline for the aging action star, fan hope for Schwarzenegger to reattain that glory isn’t dead yet and I suppose in the meantime this will do. But lower those expectations now.
The Last Stand receives 2.5/5