Friday, January 18, 2013

The Last Stand

He'll Be Right Back: Arnold, With Guns, Bullets, Blood

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Sheriff Ray Owens in Kim Jee-weon's action film "The Last Stand".  Lionsgate


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, January 18, 2013

"I'll be right back," Arnold Schwarzenegger's weary, disaffected Sommerton Junction sheriff Ray Owens says during a gunfight in the small, deserted Arizona town in "The Last Stand".  This is the closest the former California governor comes to reprising the line that made him so famous in the "Terminator" films, though everything else in Kim Jee-weon's hyper-violent action escapade is very "Terminator" friendly: guns, blood, bullets and octane.

In his U.S. debut Mr. Kim ("I Saw The Devil") re-introduces Mr. Schwarzenegger as a lead action hero with tried-and-true cinematic attributes: close-ups, one-liners, and a snarl just before a timed delivery, or after gunning down a villain.  "The Last Stand" is two movies running at two speeds: very fast (a wanted Mexican drug lord in a Z1 Knight Rider-like car who speeds for the border) and slow (the ambling, deliberate small-town action hero, called upon to make sure that milk is delivered.)  Drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega, "Transsiberian") is cited as a highly dangerous criminal by FBI drug cartel lead agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), yet the only danger he poses is that he is unarmed and speeds at 200 miles an hour on open roads with a curious hostage (Genesis Rodriguez, "Man On A Ledge", "Casa De Mi Padre"). 

None of this makes sense.

What makes "sense", sadly, is only one thing: "The Last Stand" exists solely as a celebration and coronation of graphic violence, a mindless spectacle where bullets are the only form of dialogue.  Guns do the talking.  They speak loudly.  Characters in Andrew Knauer's very thin script occupy time comparing bullet wounds as if badges of honor.  People are frequently shot in the head at close or reasonably close range.  Mr. Kim, who in his native Korea has directed bloody films with a strong story line, takes a vacation from doing so here, presiding over a film whose sole talisman is violence.  There are perhaps more bullet holes seen in "The Last Stand" than in any other American film I can ever recall seeing, including "Bonnie And Clyde", "The Wild Bunch", "Terminator 2" and "Heat".

The eroticization and titillation of violence is the raison d'être of "The Last Stand".  In one scene two characters kiss passionately -- immediately after a villain is gunned down to a bloody pulp -- crystallizing the film's valentine to violence.  "Am I forgiven?", one of the characters says, reiterating the refrain that "the partners that kill together stay together."  At the screening I attended audience members often applauded and cheered the Peckinpah-style gun killings -- a month after Sandy Hook.  (Life goes on, I guess.)  In the wake of last month's massacre, an event that in my view produced a watershed moment in the American conscience equivalent to the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls, I continue to be queasy (for the time being) about this renewed and extreme level of gun violence -- especially in a film that doesn't have a storyline of any strength or interest to contextualize such brutality.

The extremely fast car Cortez drives is presumably (or subconsciously) the vehicle for any woman in the audience to be aroused by.  There are frequent shots of the hand of the handsome villain Cortez jerking or thrusting the car's black gearstick.  The speeding car.  The loud, humming engine.  (Remember Sofia Coppola's opening scene with that revving engine in "Somewhere" that underlined the film's opening titles?)  The vibrations and sensations of an revved engine under your car seat, ladies?  All of this is not necessarily happenstance.  The scenes of the sleek, speeding car in "The Last Stand" operate as a car commercial for women -- an ironic reversal of the endless stream of commercials geared to men in which models pose suggestively by the latest set of hot wheels.

If nothing else, Johnny Knoxville will delight "Jackass" fans with his jackass acts here, though his equal billing with Mr. Schwarzenegger in posters for "The Last Stand" is a misnomer, vastly disproportionate, as he has a total screen time of 15 minutes.  Much of this goofy, disjointed exercise of a speedway western is clichéd, with the appealing but typecast Peter Stormare as a ne'er-do-well menacing townsfolk and causing mayhem.  The outgunned, incompetent Sommerton police force cowers under an initial assault by the villain's crew of black-masked and unmasked gunmen, who clear a zero car-like path for Cortez as he runs for the border in record Formula One time.

The FBI scenes showcasing a barking and misplaced Mr. Whitaker, look lost here, resembling footage from the cutting room floor of another film.  The continuing time-stamped subtitles (3:30a.m., 5:02 a.m., etc.) bored me instead of heightening suspense.  The film's fruitless and foolish final half hour numbed me.  I was very troubled by this film, which belongs as Midnight screening at Sundance rather than a daytime popcorn muncher.

"The Last Stand", designed to appeal to the baser instincts of its moviegoers, is a vehicle that parodies Mr. Schwarzenegger's prior action films and to a smaller extent,  gently alludes (in one speech) to his real-life travails.  The rough-and-ready image of a once "Last Action Hero" is sandpapered down to a small degree ala the Clint Eastwood of "Grand Torino".  There are a few funny moments.  It's amusing to see a creaky, suntanned Arnold telling the sleepy, old, unconcerned Sommerton townsfolk to stay away from the windows of a diner he frequents.  Yet it will be a matter of time before the Annie Oakleys and Wyatt Earps awaken and get into OK corral mode to defend their quaint Arizona town.  The truth is that Arnold isn't out of place in these cactus environs, even if his vague onscreen character has left Los Angeles behind.  It's as if he never really left at all.

Also with: Jaimie Alexander, Rodrigo Santoro, Zach Gilford, Luis Guzmán, Lois Geary.

"The Last Stand" opened today across the U.S. and Canada.  The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong bloody violence throughout, and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 47 minutes.  

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