'The Last Stand': Arnold is back
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
From Austrian body builder to improbable action movie hero to California governor to sort of personally disgraced ex-California Governor to ... action movie hero again. 2013 opens with another episode in the both peculiar and apparently irresistible saga of Arnold Schwarzenegger that, among other things, aims to prove that there ARE second and third acts in American lives if you're an immigrant. Or something.
Ah-nuld nerds, and there are, to judge from Internet activity, still a heck of a lot of them out there, have been salivating over the performer's rushed return to front-and-center on-screen terminating (he did show up in Stallone's "Expendables" movies in wink-wink bit parts) for a number of reasons, one of which was that this project had an "interesting" director, Korean Kim Jee-woon of "I Saw The Devil" not-quite fame. Alas, Jee-woon doesn't do much of anything interesting with the very conventional material that makes up "The Last Stand" 's storyline. That material includes a Ruthless Drug Kingpin Who Engineers A Daring Escape From Execution, A Small Time Sheriff Who Used To Be Somebody Whose Little Town Lies Directly In The Path Of The Drug Kingpin's Escape Route, those characters' respective posses (a venal black-clad criminal army on the one hand, a motley band of thrifty, brave, clean and reverent deputies on the other) and a cargo plane load of guns and ammunition, some of it provided courtesy of an eccentric weapons enthusiast played by Johnny Knoxville, who does a nice combo of Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote, redneck style, which meshes amusingly with Schwarzenegger's impression of a Teutonic Kaw-Liga.
Let's not be coy here: Schwarzenegger is an atrocious actor and always has been. And he's been away from movies sufficiently long that in the earliest scenes of "The Last Stand," his awfulness registers as just that; we haven't had time to get acclimated to the particularities of his screen charisma. Also, he's, you know, 65. Only four years younger than Keith Richards, although he's likely had a healthier lifestyle. (Those cigars, though.) "The Last Stand" contains a fair number of acknowledgements of Our Hero's advanced age. Not that it matters when it comes to the plausibility of his character being able to successfully challenge the villain Cortez ("what a killer," as Neil Young would say, am I right?) played by Eduardo Noriega, whose resemblance to spaghetti-Western and Euro-thriller stalwart Tomás Milián helps contribute to this movie's sometimes-agreeable B-picture vibe. The plot mechanics maintain an again not-unpleasing "Rio Bravo" meets "Die Hard" feel, and the action sequences, while hardly particularly distinguished, aren't altogether migraine inducing. The getaway car, a souped-up Corvette capable of going over 200 miles an hour, has some novelty value too. But as lively as some of the stuff on display can get, it's not gonna give the producers of the "Mission Impossible" franchise anything to lose sleep over.
Still, "The Last Stand" commits few major sins while indulging all the usual
minor (or at least unsurprising) sins (overemphatic blood-and-guts, useless
exposition about stuff we don't care about and hardly any explanation of stuff
we might actually be curious about). Those sins are ones we've gotten used to
forgiving while enjoying our action pablum. But after the hyper-fire-powered
standoff in the middle of town, the movie's second-tier climax brings a new
definition to the term "corny" and winds up falling very flat. Trying the
viewer's patience in this way is apt to have the side-effect of calling
attention to the essentially hollow nature of the whole enterprise. At least
that was this viewer's experience. The preview audience I saw it with was more
taken with the picture, although the presence therein of not one but two
goo-gooing and occasionally crying babies did add a peculiar dimension to the
experience. This did not inhibit one individual, who rather resembled Cedric the
Entertainer in drag (complete with hat), from proclaiming "That movie was DOPE"
on the way out of the theater. Just so you know there's a multiplicity of
opinion on Schwarzenegger's reemergence. The odds are good that now that he's
back, he'll be, um, back.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.