For someone who welcomed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines as a return to straightforward action filmmaking when wire fu had audiences in a sad post-Matrix hangover, The Last Stand is another blessing. A project tailor-made for the actor’s strengths yet fresh in its retro approach, Kim Ji-woon’s film is an ideal restart to his star’s long-paused career and a jolt to a struggling domestic genre.
Picking up where he left off, Schwarzenegger has a self-consciously good time as Ray Owens, the aging sheriff of tiny border town Sommerton Junction. Strolling around his southwestern Mayberry, Ray does the best he can with ragtag deputies Mike (Luis Guzman), Sarah (Jaimie Alexander) and Jerry (Zach Gilford), who wish for danger to enliven their dull jobs. Along with local gun nut Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), the deputies combat their small-town ennui with comedic shenanigans while Ray struggles to keep them focused. The light banter of these character clashes sets a winning early tone, but with trouble looming, it’s only a matter of time before shots are fired.
As promised, a major threat arises in the form of drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega). Escaping his FBI clutches in a preposterous Las Vegas escape, Cortez takes an agent hostage, hops in super-charged Corvette, and speeds toward Mexico to cross the border at Sommerton at upwards of 200 mph. After the insane but believable intricacies that lead up to the so-crazy-it-might-work flight, The Last Stand makes it clear that from then on, mindless entertainment will reign supreme. In less capable hands, conventional car chases and unnecessarily artful shootouts would surely follow. With Kim’s throwback, hardcore bloody action and a game cast doling out all of the above, however, a thoroughly fantastic time awaits.
In his first Hollywood film, the South Korean director ably adapts his accomplished, confident, hyperbolic but never cartoonish style to this fairly simple, mainstream fare. Operating within real-world limitations and consequences, characters knowingly spout Andrew Knauer’s silly dialogue while those around them get brutally shot in the no-nonsense manner that defined the film’s ‘80s forebears. This refreshing approach gives the project room to have fun and be increasingly funny as it becomes more ridiculously action-packed, gag-filled, and heroic. As the thrills pile up, it’s a pleasure to fall for these characters and their predicament, one in which seemingly anything goes, they know it’s a gas, and viewers open to such a ride effortlessly go along with it.
Nowhere is this style more successful than in an epic firefight between Sommerton’s Finest and Cortez’s gang, led by the menacing Burrell (Peter Stormare, sporting a fabulous oversized cowboy accent). The endless-bullet showdown is staged with gleeful looseness, reminiscent of Hot Fuzz’s comedically big shootouts, and keeps its foot firmly on the gas pedal. Following such a magnificent showdown, the inevitable tete-a-tete between good and evil is somewhat of a letdown, though Kim continues to find new ways to entertain. Remarkably clear-eyed in his direction, not even Forest Whitaker, tasked with playing the straight man FBI honcho amidst the rampant monkeying around, can dampen the mood. Such is the power of The Last Stand’s brainless fun, so professionally committed to its noble pursuit that partaking is a no-brainer.
Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language.
The Last Stand is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.