After tearing up the box office, starring in Terminator 3, and then fucking up California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in films. His reemergence in cinema is also a landmark for South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon, who is making his Hollywood debut. And what a comeback it is.
The Last Stand, in classic Western fashion, starts with a notorious cartel leader named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) attempting to reach the Mexico border to escape U.S. custody. One thing stands in his way: the sleepy town of Sommerton Junction, watched over by Sheriff Ray Owens (an old, grizzled Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his inexperienced deputies: Sarah Torrance (Jaimie Alexander), Jerry Bailey (Zach Gilford), and Luis Guzman (Luis Guzman). He has help from a probably-crazy weapons dealer named Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), and together they will take down Cortez. Peter Stormare also stars as, you guessed it, a villain. Between him, Luiz Guzman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, this movie sure has a lot of accents.
This is a smaller-budgeted, lower-scale film than many of Arnold’s best, but it still shows that he’s still got it. From the moment the grizzled action veteran rolls up in an SUV and blows away the first thug to the final bone-crushing brawl with Cortez, the world’s biggest box office star barely misses a step and slides into another brawny action role. He’s older, but hardly slower—but he’s ok with that, and even throws in a couple of amusing references to his age. The Last Stand is also no less brutal than some of the former Governator’s older films, with some pretty nasty, creative kills that keep things interesting.
Kim Jee-Woon, who is well-loved in South Korea for such films as The Good, the Bad, the Weird, A Tale of Two Sisters, and I Saw the Devil, brings his style and finesse to American shores. There’s a bit of inventiveness here and there, with clever camera movements and inventive staging, as well as a refreshing lack of “shaky-cam” during the action. With each of his films, there is always a really fun, inventive sequence where he completely indulges in his visual imagination—here, it is a brilliantly-staged car chase through a cornfield that culminates in a stand-off with both drivers slowly moving through to try to spot the other. Such visual ingenuity isn’t very common in Hollywood, let alone in an action movie.
Director Kim Jee-Woon’s deficiency in the English language shows here, as there are times where the actors aren’t quite sure what to do. This is most evident with Knoxville, who, when he isn’t the primary occupant of a shot, just appears to be aimless. This might also be due to the fact that Johnny Knoxville is a shitty actor, and that Arnold is well known for being unable to deliver a line without it being hilarious. Occasionally, the dialogue-based comedic timing is a bit off as well. Of course, this comes with the territory of a South Korean director making a film in a foreign language, and it’s easy to forgive when the physical comedy works so well.
It’s far from perfect, but The Last Stand is a damn lot of fun when it’s firing on all cylinders. Everyone involved cuts loose and unleashes a gleefully stupid action flick that fully indulges in the tropes of both classic Westerns and 90s action movies. Finally, make sure you see it with a crowd; audience reaction to the film has been extremely positive so far, with Arnold fans throughout the audience laughing and cheering all the way. Schwarzenegger’s return to film and Kim’s American debut is a great time at the movies, and hopefully indicative of what is to come from both sides of the camera.
Take a Drink: for every new, unique way someone dies.
Take a Drink: every time a character reacts in shock to someone’s death.
Do a Shot: any time the camera does something crazy.
Take a Drink: any time you chuckle at the way Arnold Schwarzenegger or Peter Stormare deliver a line.