The Last Stand Review
An action comedy with a massive side of extra comedy.
As a Schwarzenegger fan who lives in California I am first of all glad to see Arnold give up pesky politics in favor of a return to film. This, aside from a supporting role in the Expendables 2, is his first real return to film and I can honestly say I like him better as an actor than a governor.
I can also applaud this film in realizing that what Arnold now does best is make action movies funny and setting up to create a funny action comedy. Unfortunately once they pointed the film in the direction of the comedy cliff they locked the gas pedal to the floor and forgot where the brake was. Unless he is playing a Terminator Arnold naturally brings a certain amount of comedy to his action role (a fact that was brilliantly celebrated in Last Action Hero). That phenomenon kind of negates the need for a comic relief character, and if there is one thing that comic relief character doesn’t need it’s another comic relief character. By the end of the film there was so much comic relief going on that the villain looked like he was trying to escape from a rogue clown troupe.
The other thing about comic relief characters in action movies is the good ones either serious up when the action starts (relegating their comedy to quick one-liners) or have the good grace to slink off and hide inside a dumpster in order to let the action hero do his thing. In this film the comic relief character (especially Johnny Knoxville. Sorry Johnny. I loved you in Jackass but every scene with you in it here made me wish you were currently getting kicked in the balls) play integral and hi-larious parts in every action scene. The natural victim of all this comedy is of course the action, which ended up feeling like a powerful firehose that had a kink in it, reducing the fun to a mere dribble that the director then waved back and forth in order to at least simulate some excitement. By the end of the movie I was begging for relief from the comedy.
The overuse of comic relief was highly reminiscent of a lot of Japanese and Korean films I have seen, and when I looked the movie up on IMDB I was not surprised to see it was directed by Korean director Jee-woon Kim. While I appreciate foreign film immensely and Korea is coming out with some amazing stuff (if you have not seen Save the Green Planet you definitely should) I don’t know if a major action film is the best place for a Korean director to make his debut in the US market. This is the first big film he has done, and according to his filmography the first action film. I know I bitched about a similar phenomenon with regards to writing in my review for the Gangster Squad, but given that this film had a $30,000,000 budget couldn’t they have found a director who has produced a film that has grossed more than the $30MM it took to make this film? (For the record, the Last Stand was number 9 over this last weekend, grossing a lousy $6.3MM. It was beat out by Les Mis, Django Unchained, A Haunted House, Broken City, Gangster Squad, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty, and Mama)
What bums me out about doing this review is I am a fan of Arnold, and honestly he did a pretty good job. His action was good, and he pulled off a believable and appealing character. I connected best with him and was rooting for him during the action, something all good action heroes need. Unfortunately if he were the the helium balloon part of the film lifting it up into the air, the rest of the cast and the story were massive sandbags weighting it down.
The story is of cartel kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega-Open Your Eyes, the Devil’s Backbone, the Method) escaping from FBI transfer custody under the command of Agent Bannister (Forest Whitaker-Platoon, Last King of Scotland, Phone Booth). His escape plan involves use of a super fast sports car capable of outrunning most helicopters and having his henchmen destroy any roadblock the police set up (I guess no one believes in spike traps anymore). Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger is the sheriff of a small town just on the Mexican border. He is aided by a set of the most incompetent deputes since Barney Fife (Andy Griffith image is actually from our Cheap T Shirt category). They bumble their way around town and manage to introduce us to the comics relief comic relief Lewis Dinkman (Johnny Knoxville-Jackass and not much else). I can say I am not by nature a violent man (that might not be true, but I can say it) but his character seriously made me want to run out into the lobby and punch the guy taking tickets.
Anyway, the FBI are foiled at every turn by Cortez’s careful planning and some stupid action (is there anyone in the world who believes a Humvee can be flipped into the air by running head first into a sports car without the sports car being flattened or at least damaged in some way besides scratched paint?). He is going to cross the border in Arnolds town, where he has already sent a team of white trash mercenaries to build a temporary bridge and shoot up the locals.
The dopey action starts. Dinkman and another guy get deputized. Turns out Dinkman has a massive weapons depot and we get treated to what should have in real life been hours of prep but is covered in a 45 second montage (actually, now that I think about it the timing and pacing of this whole movie was wacky. Cortez is driving a car in excess of 150mph. Las Vegas to the Mexican border is about 350 miles, yet the trip seemed to take like a day and a half). Knoxville tries to prove he is the spiritual son of any of the Three Stooges but unfortunately rolls Shemp. The gang of bad guys rolls into town to duke it out with the sheriff and his moronic deputes in an action scene that was kind of a snooze fest mainly due to the forcible injection of comedy. Stuff gets blown up, guys get shot, cars get wrecked.
The stars. Like I said, I thought Arnold was pretty cool and did a good job. Plus I’m just glad to see him back on the screen. Two stars. The final chase scene and one on one manhunt was pretty good (basically as soon as Arnold shed his comedic anchors the action got good). One star. If what you really want is comic relief this movie is a veritable cornucopia. One star. Total: four stars.
The black holes. Way, way too much comic relief. The whole point is a comic relief character is supposed to relieve the tension from the action. What this movie had was action relief. Also I spent a lot of the film hoping two of the characters in particular would die. Two black holes. The movie had three different tones and shifted back and forth without warning: gritty CSI crime drama with the FBI manhunt, Dirty Harry style action, and Keystone Cops-esque comedy with the deputies. Rapid tonal changes hurts the audience brain. One black hole. Not a lot of originality in the progression of the story. Once the (reasonably) original idea of a prison break was done the rest of the movie was fairly by-the-numbers. One black hole. A few of the action scenes were laughably ridiculous. One black hole. Total: five black holes.
A grand total of one black hole, which means it’s not irredeemable. Some entertainment could be had. The biggest problem this film faces is the real draw is going to be fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger from his Terminator or Commando days, and what we are presented is a 66 year old man who has a passing resemblance to the mercenary who beat an alien in hand to hand in Predator. It’s just off enough to kind of bug. Still worth seeing if you are bored and want some action or just want to support Arnold. Totally NetFlix-able IMO. Date movie? Maybe. This film could be a good compromise in the sense that your girlfriend agrees to see an action film (possibly in payment for dragging you to see Les Miserables) but you know if you show her Parker you might have a hard time getting her in the mood. Bathroom break? That’s easy. The A Team style preparation montage does nothing, and if you really want a worthless scene the one where Johnny Knoxville is trying to cut down a telephone pole. Talk about flow breaking and worthless.
Thanks for reading. More later this week, and thanks again to Nora for reviewing Silver Linings Playbook. I probably would not have seen it. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have any comments on this film or my review feel free to post them at the bottom of the page article (if you don’t see a comment section click here). Off topic comments or suggestions can be emailed to me at email@example.com. Have a great day.