The Last Stand
Directed by Kim Jee-Woon. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker, Rodrigo Santoro, Luis Guzmán, Jaimie Alexander, Genesis Rodriguez, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford. (2013, R, 108 min.)
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Jan. 18, 2013
After serving as governor of California and being the key figure in a major scandal, Arnold Schwarzenegger shows a mature return to his peak action form after an absence of 10 years. Despite his acknowledged age, creaking bones, and reduced nerve, Schwarzenegger still delivers quite a performance in this fun, straight-ahead action film. (This is unlike Sylvester Sallone’s starring role in the upcoming Bullet to the Head, which promises to be a typical action thriller featuring an over-the-top, macho performance.)
The Last Stand begins by chronicling the seemingly peaceful life of Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger), who is the sheriff of a small border town in Arizona. Hundreds of miles away in Los Angeles, and unknown to the sheriff, the leader of a notorious crime cartel, Gabriel Cortez (Noriega), is being transported by an armed caravan that’s under the leadership of FBI agent John Bannister (Whitaker). The convoy is attacked by an army of gunmen recruited for the purpose of executing a daringly well-planned escape to Mexico for Cortez.
The first three-quarters of the film follow Cortez’s flight as he heads toward the border driving a racing car capable of going more than 200 miles an hour. Staked out along the way are more cohorts waiting to help him execute his escape plan. In his mad drive south, he constantly outwits his pursuers and the authorities.
Cortez is heading toward Sheriff Owens’ border town, where a significant number of his cronies are armed and waiting. Owens and crew slowly begin to figure out there is something terribly wrong going on in their community. Although the initial escape sequences are a lot of fun, the film doesn’t really take off until this final confrontation. Owens’ deputies include the eccentric Lewis Dinkum (Knoxville) and Mike Figuerola (Guzmán), who provide much of the comic relief. They set up for a last stand against the escaped drug kingpin and his gang. Owens huffs and puffs and shows great vulnerability, while not playing at being a superhero or invincible comic-book character. Yet he is determined, experienced, and strategically savvy. The final action scenes are thrillingly entertaining.
In his first American outing as a director, South Korean genre director Kim Jee-Woon is perfect for this taut, nonstop action film, which is neither overly ambitious or overreaching. Kim fully established his action credentials with 2008’s wild and comic Korean Western The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Still, this is Schwarzenegger’s film: By knowing what to do, and what not to do, he brings it home.