In case you haven’t noticed, Hollywood is being invaded by the South Koreans this year. Park “Oldboy” Chan-Wook has Stoker coming up soon and Bong “The Host” Joon Ho, will unveil Snowpiercer later in the year. But it’s up to I Saw the Devil director Kim Ji-Woon to deliver the opening salvo and he’s brought out the big guns. I am of course referring to the biceps of once action movie king, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who now that he’s done governating is looking to reclaim his crown, old age and illegitimate kids be damned.
Despite already “being back” alongside his fellow action veterans in Sly Stallone’s The Expendables 1 & 2, this is Ahnuld’s first headline act since 2003’s T3: Rise of the Machines. How’d he do? Not bad at all. Just a pity about some of the other folks around him.
For his English language directorial debut Ji-Woon has chosen a film that’s essentially nothing but simple high concept, which also suits Arnie just fine: FBI Agent Bannister (Forrest Whittaker) has just lost top of the food chain Mexican drug cartel boss/racing car driver/Prince lookalike Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) during a prison transport, and Cortez is now “a psycho in a Batmobile” racing to the Mexican border with a souped-up supercar under his lead foot, and a gang of paramilitaries under his control. To avoid being cut off at the normal border crossing, Cortez is making a NOS-fueled beeline for the sleepy border town of Sommerton, home of one Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger), an ex-LA narcotics cop who saw and dealt out his fare share of violence back in the day but opted for a quiet life in his twilight years instead. Cue the FBI not trusting the instincts of the over the hill hick Sheriff, while the reluctantly heroic Sheriff and his even more reluctant motley crew of deputies and volunteers have to show them how to get things done.
And for the most part, that’s exactly what Arnold does. Getting it done like he always has, with a really big gun, a witty one liner and an inexplicably American last name. Now as an actor, Arnold is probably never going to win any major awards (Well, except for that one time that he actually did. Must have been a bad batch of recreational pharmaceuticals in Hollywood that year), and The Last Stand is certainly not the movie to sway that opinion. But really if you stepped into this movie expecting Daniel Day-Lewis with muscles then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. This movie is purely of the skop, skiet en donder school of filmmaking where our heroes are formed out of equal doses of granite and cheese, and our villains are all chronic mustache twirlers. And in that regards, The Last Stand excels.
Ji-Woon is a clearly talented director, and this is on display as he shows some restraint and paces the film rather well, instead of adopting the ADHD style of action filmmaking that completely replaces script punctuation with explosions. Not that there aren’t any of those. Especially exploded heads and numerous bits of other human anatomy courtesy of some rather large caliber bullets. This is one film that definitely earns it’s R rating (You hear that A Good Die to Die Hard and your lame couple of swear words?!). But besides for the visceral nature of the action, it’s all pretty well staged and shot, especially the eventual in-car and on-foot, bone crunching showdown between Owens and Cortez.
Up until now this review has been pretty rosy, but you just know there’s a “but” coming, and unfortunately it’s not the rather shapely one of Jaimie Alexander’s Deputy Torrance, though she is part of the problem. The thing is that while I completely understand the need for Arnold to actually have co-stars for this film – as a solo action effort would have stretched plot incredulity past breaking point, especially since Owens is the first to point out how old he’s become and having serious doubts and fears as to whether he’s up to the heroic task – they are like in Torrance, her jailbird ex-marine ex-boyfriend Frank Martinez (Rodrigo Santoro) and her “dreaming of moving to the big city” partner Jerry Bailey’s (Zach Gilford) case, undeveloped human stage props and red shirts at best and Johnny Knoxxville at worst.
Why the Jackass star is even in this movie is simply beyond me, as his characters’ duties could easily have been written up as a bit part. You may say he’s there as the comic relief, but not only is there ample levity courtesy of Arnie himself, you already have Luiz Guzman busy Luiz Guzmanning it up all over the place. So now instead of the standard issue one unfunny, irritating sidekick, you have two to grind your teeth at.
That’s of course in between bouts of grinding your teeth at a couple of gaping plot holes as well as the cliched FBI incompetence of Forrest Whittaker, whose sole job is to not trust the hero and shoot down every idea he has only to show up after all the dust has settled, just like in the old days.
But it’s said dust-up that is the real reason to go see this movie; just a brain-optional, thrillingly bloody, infectiously fun time at the cinema. So much so, that I was strongly considering overlooking it’s glaring flaws and throwing an extra 1/2 star up there, but in the end I realized that this is not a great movie per se, but it will be a great movie for some.
So while this action romp has done some rather miserable business at the domestic and limited international box office thus far, I have a feeling that it will have some legs courtesy of the home collections of action movie aficionados, and I for one can definitely see it finding a bullet riddled place on my shelf.
The King is back! Now if only he could have brought along some better friends!