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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/PopcornReel.com
"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
"Man On A Ledge",
"Casa De Mi
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
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
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
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
degree ala the
Clint Eastwood of
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
"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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