Sunday, January 20, 2013

"The Last Stand" (2013)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker and Johnny Knoxville
Written by Andrew Knauer
Directed By Kim Ji-Woon
Rated R - Violence, language
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Trailer (Red band)

FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) is overseeing the transfer of a dangerous Federal prisoner to death row. Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) is one of the most vile and vicious drug lords in history, and he's due to be executed. Bannister thinks he's got it all covered, but Cortez's men manage to break him free during the transfer, and Cortez is now rocketing toward the Mexican border in a specially-modified Corvette ZR-1.

The only thing standing in his way? Small-town sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Ray, a former Los Angeles narcotics detective, is called to investigate the murder of a local farmer in the middle of the night. Soon enough, his deputies, Jerry (Zach Gilford), Sarah (Jaime Alexander) and "Figgy" (Luis Guzman) are involved in a firefight on the farmer's property with Cortez's mercenaries, led by the vicious Burrell (Peter Stormare), who are building a bridge across the ravine into Mexico.  Ray warns Bannister that Cortez's men are in town, but Bannister won't be able to get his forces there in time.

So Ray and his small, inexperienced band of deputies will arm up and make their last stand in the middle of Main Street to prevent Cortez from escaping to freedom. Aided by a drunken former Marine (Rodrigo Santoro) and the local gun nut (Johnny Knoxville), this small band of weirdos will take on vicious mercenaries hell bent on getting their boss through town at whatever the cost.

I'm a big proponent of managing expectations when watching just about any film. And let's face it, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies are the type of movies where you just have to know what to expect, and you have to want it, in order to enjoy them.

"The Last Stand" is just not a good film. And it seems to know that. There's enough tongue-in-cheek here for us to say, "Okay, this is ridiculous, but screw it." The violence is over the top, the one-liners are cheesy and often groan-worthy, and even a lot of the kills in the film seem designed to be darkly humorous.  The script is riddled with cliches, the worst offender being the young deputy eager for action and adventure who is the first to get killed. There's the thankless role of the FBI agent frustrated that his quarry seems unstoppable. There's the double-crossing agent. The over-the-top henchman. The weary older sheriff with the badass past... which of course leads us into the classic "dossier scene."  You know the one I'm talking about. There's nothing surprising or unpredictable about the way "The Last Stand" unfolds. Hell, you can pretty much glean everything you really need to from the trailer. It's a Schwarzenegger action film through and through, with hints of a Western tossed in for good measure.

But that's not really where the fun lies in these kinds of movies. Schwarzenegger's entire career has been built on this kind of easily-digestible action fare. While occasionally there's a role or film that transcends its limitations ("Terminator 2"), for the most part you know exactly what you're getting into when Schwarzenegger headlines a picture.

Here, Schwarzenegger is returning to a starring role after a decade away serving as governor of California. The script and his performance are tailored as such - there are jokes about Ray being older and a bit world-weary. Ray is a bit less overtly physical than Schwarzenegger has ever been in the past, functioning more as a leader and strategist, though the film's climax gives him the chance to take on Cortez one-on-one. Schwarzenegger looks old here, and he plays it old, which works to his benefit. He's not pretending he's a younger man, which is good because "The Last Stand" already stretches the seems of its believability pants.

Continuing with the theme of "you get what you expect," Johnny Knoxville provides some of the film's biggest dumb laughs. His character is the most overtly comedic in the film, and Knoxville does what he does best by playing it up. You'll be left shaking your head at how someone so clearly stupid can still be, y'know, alive. He's followed closely by Luis Guzman's Figgy, an overweight coward of a deputy. These two get to be silly as a rule, and it's good, stupid fun.

But none of the characters or stupidity are really why you're going to see this movie.  You want to see carnage, and "The Last Stand" does a reasonable job providing that. There aren't any sequences in this film that will go down in the lexicon of classic action, but like the rest of "The Last Stand" is just good enough to be enjoyable but not a total waste of your time. "The Last Stand" is a fairly short film, clocking in well under two hours once you factor in all the credits and whatnot. It takes its time with its setup, but once it's ready to rock and roll it doesn't waste any more time.

The most enjoyable sequences are Cortez's breakout and then the big finale on Main Street. But special mention has to be made for the first time Arnold shows up and blows someone away. It's a cheer-worthy moment not just because it's a cool bit in the film but also because, well, it's when you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger is back where he belongs: up on the big screen, dishing out pain to bad guys. But while it doles out some solid carnage, "The Last Stand" often feels like it's pulling its punches. If only it had gone a little bit further over the top, I'd be more heartily recommending this film. There's a refreshing lack of CGI nonsense going on, save for some of the bigger blood spatters, giving many of the film's car crashes real, solid heft.

"The Last Stand" is fun matinee fare, and a welcome and comforting return to the screen for Schwarzenegger. But manage your expectations. There's fun to be had, but you've got to know what you're getting into, and you've got to want it.