With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Peter Stormare, Luis Guzmán. Written by Andrew Knauer and Jeffrey Nachmanoff & George Nolfi. Directed by Jee-woon Kim. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language. 107 minutes.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, having gotten that political stuff out of his system, returns to the screen in his first starring action role (besides popping up in Sylvester Stallone’s “Expendables” movies) in a number of years. He’s older, and the movie acknowledges that, but you still wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of a fight he’s in.
THE LAST STAND is, in many ways, a perfectly serviceable Schwarzenegger action film. In it there are car chases, shootouts, some character moments, a decent cast, a few laughs, and it clocks in at less than two hours. Unlike, say, Jackie Chan’s later films, there’s no reason to object on the grounds that that it’s stunt doubles or special effects. Schwarzenegger pretty much does what he has to do and we’re willing to go along for the ride.
He plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of a small Arizona border town. He was previously a cop in Los Angeles and we get the sense that he was tired of the shootings and violence and was looking forward to being the law in a sleepy community. However, a trucker (Peter Stormare) passing through town rouses his suspicions, and when the story cuts to an FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) tracking an escaping Mexican drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) we just know that the two plot lines are going to intersect.
There’s enough gunfire here to warm the cockles of Wayne LaPierre’s heart (assuming the NRA spokesman has one). Much of it is courtesy of Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), an oddball gun collector in town who doesn’t always worry about what’s legal. Along with several deputies, including one played by Luis Guzmán, the sheriff awaits a showdown first with Cortez’s minions, and then with the man himself. There are plenty of twists and turns as well as action set pieces, and if the character development gets short shrift, well, that’s not what you go to a movie like this for, is it?
At age 65, Schwarzenegger is a bit long-in-the-tooth to be an action hero, but he pulls it off because he lets his co-stars (Knoxville, Guzmán, Jaimie Alexander, Rodrigo Santoro) have their action moments as well. When he has his final showdown with Cortez, it might be a stretch to believe he would prevail but we certainly see that he has to struggle and earn the inevitable victory. (And, really, is there anyone out there who is surprised by where the film is going or feels it has been “spoiled?” If so, you need to stop watching movies like this.)
“The Last Stand” is an action film with Schwarzenegger filling the role that would have been played thirty years ago by Charles Bronson or Lee Marvin. We were willing to accept them getting older so long as they admitted that they weren’t in their twenties any longer and still looked like they could come out on top of a barroom brawl. Schwarzenegger has played it this way as well. It remains to be seen if he’s going to continue to try to be the action hero or figure out – as Clint Eastwood has – what happens to such characters as they grow older.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.