Neither Great Nor Awful, THE LAST STAND Feels More Like 'The Last Straw'
Jun 3, 2013
I know I can’t be the first person to associate Kim Jee-Woon’s amazingly tepid THE LAST STAND with late 80’s / early 90’s action cinema, can I? This flick feels like it must’ve gathered dust for at least three decades without anyone so much as picking it up and offering a simple rewrite. Why Arnold Schwarzenegger would choose this project as his ‘comeback from retirement’ picture is a complete loss to me unless he wanted to remind his audience of what better he’d already done in COMMANDO, RAW DEAL, and ERASER. What could make the argument that those films are equally forgettable, but, in the very least, that had enough spark to capture the limelight by being in the right time at the right place. By comparison, THE LAST STAND feels like it may’ve birthed itself from some scripts rejected from TV’s “The A Team” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Sheriff Ray Owens (played by legendary action star Arnold Schwarzenegger) is an aging lawman spending the last days of his career in the quiet li’l burg known as Sommerton Junction, a sleepy AZ border town. However, the murder of a local resident kicks Owens and his three deputies into investigating what interest a Mexican cartel drug lord, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), may have with the city. It turns out Cortez – escaped and on-the-run from the FBI – intends to cross back into his native country via Sommerton’s lazy acres … but he won’t if the sheriff and his posse have anything to say about it!
Now, to be fair, the description above actually details a story that I would’ve liked to have seen for THE LAST STAND; the problem is that so very much of the actual narrative feels constructed out of hackneyed drama and cookie-cutter characters that the film ends up almost entirely devoid of any impact.
For his part, Schwarzenegger does the best he can with the material – a weak script watered down by background being “said” instead of either “explored” or “learned” naturally – but even he with all of his projected gravitas couldn’t save this. Instead, he’s shackled with characters who probably couldn’t pass an officer’s exam even under duress – Luis Guzman as Deputy Mike ‘Figgy’ Figueroa is only given comic relief lines; a usually reliable Jaimie Alexander is reduced to near damsel-in-distress status as Deputy Sarah Torrance; and (dear God) Johnny Knoxville as whacked-out-of-his-gord local resident Lewis Dinkum, a gun magnet with a penchant for naming inanimate objects. Together, this team delivers one predictable line after another in a script that never quite develops beyond its hunt-and-shoot origins.
What’s even more frustrating is that the director – Kim Jee-Woon – has a fairly solid and significant track record in his native South Korea. All too often, he gets pegged as a “visionary,” but, for my tastes, I think he delivers films that look good but do occasionally feel a bit derivative; this isn’t a bad thing, per se, it’s just that I’d like to see him branch out a bit more creatively with some other influences. His THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD is a terrific homage to the spaghetti westerns of old, but it too isn’t without a few narrative hiccups. (Stylistically, it’s accomplished and brilliant.) His I SAW THE DEVIL is a solid slasher flick but ends up relying a bit too heavily on blood, gore, and shock value to be anything greater than a comparison to earlier (Korean) revenge works with stronger characters. Perhaps his best film – for my tastes – is A BITTERSWEET LIFE, the bittersweet story of a gangster who does something upright and correct only to find himself now on the outs with the mob. Granted, that film could also be compared to other Korean crime thrillers, but it still is one of the only pictures with Kim’s name on it that I feel was truly ‘complete’ so far as the characters, the story, and the themes are concerned.
Perhaps THE LAST STAND will end up being little more than a speed bump in his (and Arnold’s) careers. I certainly hope so. I think better things are yet to come from both of them … but I’ll never quite understand what attracted either of them to such a routine action romp as this.
THE LAST STAND is produced by Di Bonaventura Pictures. DVD distribution is being handled through Lionsgate.
(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. I don’t know what anyone was thinking when they put this one together. THE LAST STAND feels like it’s a script that sat in some exec’s desk drawer for 30 years, and once Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name got attached to it suddenly everyone wanted to be a part of it. Unfortunately, the plot is borderline ridiculous, and the performances are pretty much a waste of celluloid. Johnny Knoxville? Someone actually thought that was a good idea? Please. Spare us your version of white trash, Tinseltown; we have plenty enough on our own.
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