Director: Kim Ji-woon
Runtime: 107 minutes
Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t a young man anymore. The Last Stand makes this point again and again, yet it still lets the 65-year-old action superstar strut his hulking mass and gives him some fun action sequences. For many that may be enough, but his latest action feature seems to ride along mostly on brawn, with little brain.
We haven’t seen The Governator in a leading role since 2003’s Terminator: Rise Of The Machines, and there truly isn’t an action star out there that has taken the throne he held so dominantly in the late 80’s and 90’s. However, there is something else at work here — director Kim Ji-woon (I Saw the Devil, The Good, The Bad, The Weird) was brought in by producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura to give the film a fresh voice. The result is a film that has high points in comedy and some slick action sequences, but never quite pulls off the underlying serious tone it aims for.
The aging Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) has moved away from the big city to settle down in the quiet town of Sommerton Junction as the local sheriff. However, when a dangerous criminal with ties to the Mexican cartel, Garbiel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), escapes, Ray’s quiet town is going to be turned upside down. The FBI are hot on the drug lord’s tail, racing through the desert highways in a highly modified C6 Corvette, but they’re not sure where he’s headed. Sommerton just happens to be very close to the Mexican-American border. As one would expect, Ray and his small group of deputies aren’t going to give up without a fight.
The setup is simple, as the criminal has to get past the law enforcer to get to his goal. However, I dare you to find a recent popcorn flick that is as violent as this one. Ji-woon injects his visceral touch, as one bad guy gets blown to bits and we see an arm land on someone. The other times we see the blood spurts from bullets in a realistic manner and even some up-close violence that is quite shocking. For the most part, this is a fun action film, but it has a darker side that keeps cropping up. Cortez, in particular, doesn’t shy away from inflicting lethal harm on those that get in his way.
Then there’s the comedic aspect, one that makes great use of Johnny Knoxville as Lewis Dinkum, an outcast of sorts, living in the outskirts of town with his firearms museum. Obviously you can see why Dinkum gets pulled into the fray, but the way he goes about it is often hilarious. Knoxville gets the most out of his small role and is welcome comedic relief during the third act.
Where Ji-woon shows his true talent is the setup of the action and the array of camera angles used to capture the events. One firefight in a stairwell is incredibly intense, with our director honing in on such details as splinters flying off of a door frame. Another impressively choreographed sequence follows criminals zip lining across two buildings. As the camera follows them reaching their target it starts to pan down and around to show reinforcements arriving. Because of modern computers, it’s hard to tell whether this is an actual single-take crane shot or something created digitally, but the effect is spectacular and signals a visually strong first step into Hollywood for this South Korean director.
There’s a lot of fun within The Last Stand. Taking a note from films like High Noon and Die Hard in both plot and structure, everything takes place over the course of a single day, and the film actually makes smart use of this conceit. Ray and his deputies are constantly caught off-guard and are rushing around in preparation as Ji-woon injects a sense of urgency. Arnold also gets to deliver a few patented one-liners, and many things blow up, but if you want more than a simple, throwaway action film, you’re looking in the wrong place. However, if you come in with an easy-to-please attitude, it’s hard to imagine you’ll walk out of this snarling 107-minute romp dissatisfied.
The Last Stand hits wide release on Friday, January 18th.
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