If you want a brainless action flick where you can channel your inner juvenile delinquent and watch everything get blown to bits, The Last Stand is your ticket. If you liked Gone in Sixty Seconds, North by Northwest, and any spaghetti western, you’ll like The Last Stand because it shamelessly — yet reverently —plucks from those films to cement its paint-by-number structure.
Korea-born director Jee-woon Kim (the brilliant 2008 guksu western, The Good, The Bad, The Weird) updates the American western formula with stupendous action stunts, majestic New Mexico scenery, and tons of the “new” movie violence — an endless string of faceless, nameless bad guys who erupt in short geysers of fake blood.
Of course, the main reason to see The Last Stand is to check out how Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing after leaving the California Governor’s mansion and his marriage to Maria Shriver. Seems he’s doing peachy. At age 65, he’s acquired jowls, and he still can’t act, but so what? No one’s seeing this movie for its arty inclinations. Schwarzenegger learned from pal Clint Eastwood to keep his dialogue to a minimum and the few lines he does speak he declaims as if a crowd of adoring children were standing by ready to quote him. (“I’m the sheriff!”)
Mr. Schwarzenegger’s return to the screen as a leading man is not exciting, but it is fun. Don’t look for any leading ladies, however. There are none. And the three actresses who play supporting leads all look so much alike — long brown hair, wide eyes — you can’t tell them apart. Weird.
Schwarzenegger did luck out in the film’s other casting. He got not one but two excellent villains, a double dose of evil to make his heroism all the more noble. Swedish actor Peter Stormare is a violent henchman who shoots, then grins. His boss is powerful Mexican drug lord, Gabriel Cortez, played with terrifying sexiness by gorgeous Spanish newcomer, Eduardo Noriega.
The drug kingpin escapes from maximum security in Las Vegas by having a gargantuan airborne magnet swoop up the prison van carrying him and fly it to the top of a local skyscraper. The Feds, led by agent John Ballantine (Forest Whitaker in a thanklessly boring role), can’t re-capture Cortez and can’t figure out how to stop him from escaping to Mexico.
Assisted by his sadistic construction crew lackeys, Cortez is driving a super-charged Corvette ZR1, with a 1,000-horsepower motor. Everyone’s headed to a pin dot on the map, Sommerset Junction, where the canyon that separates the U.S. from Mexico is so narrow they could build a bridge across it if they wanted to.
They do want to, but they didn’t reckon on burly man Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger), former L.A. vice squad, being the sheriff of that small town. Owens vows justice for the death of one of his deputies. “I’m not going to let that guy come through our town without a fight,” he says.
Others join him, including tubby deputy Figgy (Luis Guzman), a troubled Afghanistan vet (Rodrigo Santoro) and a goofball gun collector (Johnny Knoxville). This motley crew puts together an armory of WWII machine guns, a bazooka or two and whatever gun will stick in their pockets. Look out, bad guys! The good guys with all the weapons are going to smash you.
Before the satisfying mano-a-mano fight on the bridge between the sheriff and the drug lord, there is one scene that makes the entire movie worth seeing again. The drug lord in his black Corvette and the sheriff in the mayor’s souped-up red Camano race through an endless field of corn with corn cobs smashing like hand grenades against their windshields.
You can’t help but remember Cary Grant running through a field of corn to escape the menacing crop duster. And it’s typical Jee-woon Kim — take a classic American film scene, go over the top with it, and make an unforgettable variation. Could someday Asians make American movies better than Americans?