I swear, I tried so hard to like The Last Stand. In spite of a dreadfully silly-looking trailer, a whole lot of bizarre casting decisions (any film that second-bills Johnny Knoxville in the year 2013 is most likely inherently faulty) and a terrible, generic title, I’d heard a handful of positive word-of-mouth comments. Plus, I’ve been more than impressed with the two features — The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008) and I Saw the Devil (2010) — I’ve seen from the film’s Korean director Jee-woon Kim. But any optimism and hope I held as the movie opened slowly turned into the unmistakable realization that The Last Stand is a film hampered by a shoddy script, propped up by a corny, aging star (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and bundled-in filmmaking that’s too often shockingly uninspired.
Yes, this is just a dumb, violent action movie, but even on those terms The Last Stand lacks a certain energy. Unfortunately, Kim is left to wrestle with a meandering script that drags its feet from set piece to set piece. The movie’s centered around a basic concept, where drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega, The Devil’s Backbone) has escaped from prison, and is headed for the Mexican border, dodging road blocks and various dangers in a Corvette. In his path is a small town with a surprisingly Austrian sheriff — with the equally surprising name of Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) — who refuses to let Cortez simply waltz south of the border, and decides to make the titular last stand against this bloodthirsty criminal with little more than his deputies and a whole lot of guns.
The problem is that this basic setup is the bulk of the movie. We twiddle our thumbs for about an hour waiting for the big climax as the film runs through plot points with all the verve of scribbling items off a checklist. Once that climax comes, we finally get to see Kim do his thing, and the film becomes genuinely creative (even if it feels a bit too much like a less fun retread of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007)). For instance, moments like a slow burn of a car chase through a cornfield are full of nice touches, but it’s too late by then. The film’s warts have already been on full display. First, there’s an aging Schwarzenegger who’s simply too old for this kind of thing, creaking his way through all the tough guy stuff and, further, butchering the English language with every one-liner. The best the movie can do for a bad guy is Cortez driving through the desert, waxing philosophic about what it means to be a bad guy and dramatically shifting gears in his Corvette. In between, we occasionally get Forest Whitaker gnawing on the scenery in an attempt to remind everyone that he once won an Oscar.
Even the argument that this should be judged as mindless camp doesn’t hold water. This sort of bloody, silly, over-the-top actioner is right up Kim’s street, having already made the infinitely more fun The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Yes, that same sort of excess is here, but The Last Stand is neither as grand nor as entertaining (and lacks the fantasy-world aspects of his previous film). Instead, this film comes across instead as tacky, loud and cheap. Many a director has come from overseas and been chewed up by Hollywood, and while that may not be Kim’s ultimate fate, The Last Stand does not bode well. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language.
Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Asheville Cinema 14, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande