The Last Stand is a dumbed-down, ass-kicking version of High Noon, and that’s a good thing. After a ten-year absence as a muscle-bound, machine-gun-wielding, king of the one-liners leading man, during which time he served as the Governator of California and fathered a child with his maid (Yes, I had to go there), Arnold is back in full force as he brings on an action movie that reminds us of his 80s heyday, with a couple more wrinkles on his face that actually works in his favor by way of mileage and wisdom.
Arnie portrays all-American sheriff Ray Owens. At least his Austrian accent is referenced in the movie; a lot of his movies don’t even bother doing that much, but the source of his name isn’t. I doubt that he was born as Ray Owens in Austria. He’s protecting the good people of Somerton, a small Arizona border town. When he finds out that a dangerous fugitive, the leader of a Mexican drug cartel (Eduarda Noriega) is planning on crossing the border through his town with his armed-to-the-teeth buddies, Ray decides to hold him off with only himself, his inexperienced staff and the arsenal of a happy-go-lucky gun-nut (Johnny Knoxville). And do bullets fly and body parts explode in bloody delight? You’re damn right they do. It’s through this simple plot that The Last Stand succeeds as pure, uncut action filmmaking.
Newcomer screenwriter Andrew Knauer and Korean director Jee-woon Kim (I Saw The Devil) take their time creating the setting, the characters and the story. Of course the characters are two-dimensional and the internal conflict is shallow. Will the cop and robber who used to be a couple get back together in the end? Will the unfortunate demise of a good guy fuel the sheriff’s desire to stop the cartel leader? You know the answers before you even buy the ticket.
But that’s part of the fun and Kim knows this. He milks the characters and the initial conflict as much as he can, preparing us for the explosive final act. Some Arnie fans might be squirming in their seats with boredom during the first half but hang in there, The Last Stand delivers the goodies.
Now it’s time to get a little bit political. After each of the many recent public shootings in America, the anti-gun-control people keep defending that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”, while hypocritically blaming violent movies, the very ones that depict the same argument in an entertaining fashion.
I believe movie violence, especially highly stylized entertainment such as The Last Stand, needs to be separated from real violence. I can imagine pro-gun people defending their stance by pointing out that without the gun-nut Johnny Knoxville’s arsenal of illegally obtained heavy artillery; the good guys would have been screwed.
However, let’s not forget that this is pure fantasy. A drug cartel lord will not escape using ridiculous, borderline science-fiction techniques and begin driving a slick car with a jet plane engine. The government will not give up pursuing him when a couple of SWAT trucks are disabled. The bad guy’s men will not attempt anything as ridiculous as building a bridge to Mexico.
Therefore the sheriff of a small town, who conveniently used to be a bad-ass cop in L.A., will not have to defend his town by himself. The Land of Oz does not exist, Middle-Earth is not real, and we will never be able to drive a Millennium Falcon. If you believe in those odds, you might as well start buying lottery tickets.
One doesn’t watch a film like The Last Stand to make any argument that applies to real life. You watch it because you want to see a bad guy get hit in the back with a flare and get his torso blown up like a Loony Tunes cartoon. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Anyway, let’s just end with a blatant cliché: Arnie’s back.