The prospect of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen full-time has been a joy to behold, there’s no denying that, but let’s not play this like I’ve been waiting for him to come home from a war or something. Cinema, even action cinema, has survived without his wooden acting, one-liners and increasingly-jowly presence these past years. Hell, I didn’t even show up for those Expendables movies. Nevertheless, I’m officially of a certain age now where an Arnie action flick is imbued with a heavy dose of nostalgia. Last year I had the pleasure of seeing his Total Recall (the only Total Recall) on the big screen. Oh, it was a lovely riot of overblown nonsense. Gratuitously violent, ridiculously good. Soon after I bought myself a copy of The Running Man. One of the best decisions I made all year.
And now here’s The Last Stand. After such a long wait, it looked very much like bonkers B.A.U (working in an office has brought me into contact with a great many unnecessary acronyms – that’s ‘business as usual’ if you weren’t in the know). Guns. Cars. Guns being fired at cars. Maybe a fist fight. Something that blows up. And a one liner or two. The Last Stand does deliver all of those things. But as a vehicle announcing your grandstanding return (and he has a roster of new titles in the works, just check imdb), this seems like an unusual choice for ol’ Arnie to stake his claim with.
For one thing, he’s not in it very much. At least, not at first. Sure, he’s there when it counts, at the end, shooting at cars, punching people and saying one liners at bad guys – but for the most part of the movie’s considerable set-up, he’s a bit player. But then, The Last Stand celebrates the bit players.
To catch you up then, it’s all about a Mexican drug baron who has escaped federal capture and is rushing toward the border in a suped-up sports car that’s paraded about the screen long enough to out distance a Top Gear circle-jerk. Forest Whitaker plays the FBI guy who let this psychopath escape, who’s on the ball just enough to figure that the bandit (who looks and dresses like former BBC interior design nitwit Laurence Llewleyn-Bowen) is going to attempt an elaborate crossing to his home turf in the Texan backwater ‘burb of Sommerton. Schwarzenegger is the sheriff of said town.
Trouble brews before the kingpin arrives, as Peter Stormare and the centrefolds from Goons Monthly turn up in town looking a-bit-out-of-place before murdering a farmer (played by the suddenly-everywhere Harry Dean Stanton). Schwarzenegger’s ill-prepared country-bumpkin police force suffer some casualties whilst Whitaker’s SWAT teams ineffectually try to stop The Bad Guy from reaching the town.
It all leads to an inevitable showdown between Stormare’s goons and the Sheriff’s ramshackle bunch of stock characters, which include token woman (Jaimie Alexander), token fat deputy (Luis Guzmán), token loon (Johnny Knoxville, playing himself) and token guy-who-was-in-Lost (Rodrigo Santoro). When we reach this point, The Last Stand delivers some pretty engaging scenes of gun-porn and mid-level lunacy. There is plenty to laugh at between flare-gun fatalities and killer grannies. Yet whilst this is all fun stuff, it also feels rather tepid. The Last Stand is not a bad film, it’s just not an especially special one. In the annals of Schwarzenegger actioners, this one will ultimately wind-up a footnote.
The lead-in to the joyful violence of the film’s final act is simply way too long. Schwarzenegger himself, as previously mentioned, does not get enough screen time, and when he is around, he seems out of his depth, outclassed either by generic faces who will never lead a film in their lives, or by the likes of Guzmán and Stormare; seasoned character actors who shine here even as they phone-in their roles.
The Last Stand has not gunned down the competition at the box office, either here or in its native US of A. It’s barely scraped a top 10 placing. This is a tongue-in-cheek little action flick which doesn’t deserve to get buried, and you’d have thought it would have done better than that. Despite a baggy mid-section (much like Arnie these days) it makes for a fun night out, overall. But one wonders who the target audience is for this movie? Is it people like me, hoping to gleam a little of the golden years back again, who are as likely to see this in a cinema as not, or is it the young crowd who’ve been weened on Statham and The Rock. It’s a scary thought, but maybe the audience for Schwarzenegger is simply missing. Either too young to remember the old days or too complacent to show attendance. And how the fuck did Johnny Knoxville get second billing?
It’s by no means a turd, but it’s simply not that great either and will fade in the memory. Diverting for now, but not the storming return to the top of the deck that some of us might’ve hoped, The Last Stand is – one hopes – a good-enough placeholder until the real next chapter begins. Just as long as the former governor of California can avoid the pitfalls of previous errors like Junior. And for God’s sake, can everyone please make a concerted effort to keep the man away from any comic book franchises. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be watching a warn-out copy of Predator and bellowing “get to the choppah” at my television.