MOVIE REVIEW: THE LAST STAND (2013)
By Michael Arruda
Arnold Schwarzenegger is back on the big screen in his first starring role after a ten year absence—his last one was TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003) — in THE LAST STAND (2013), an action movie that teaches a valuable lesson: if you’re a drug dealer looking to make it to the Mexican border, and you need to pass through a small town to do it, don’t pick a town where the sheriff is Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In THE LAST STAND, Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, a former LAPD special officer, who after years of seeing too much violence and too many good people die, decides to retire to the small town of Summerton Junction and enjoy a quiet life as a small town sheriff. Good luck with that!
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) is leading a special operation to transfer a notorious drug lord, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), to his execution, but Cortez has help from the inside, and in a daring escape, manages to elude Bannister and his forces, making his way to the Mexican border in a specially outfitted car that can reach speeds up to 200 miles per hour.
Bannister surmises the three most logical spots for Cortez to try to cross the border. The least likely of the three is through the town of Summerton Junction, because at that spot there’s a ravine separating the borders and it would be difficult to cross. However, it’s the least guarded of the three.
Ray and his deputies discover a group of heavily armed men building a bridge across the ravine. Ray alerts Bannister that he knows that Cortez will be crossing through Summerton Junction, and he’ll be there in less than an hour. Since there’s little time for Bannister to mobilize his forces to make it to Summerton Junction in time, it’s up to Ray and his inexperienced group of small town deputies to make a last stand and stop Cortez from getting to the border.
THE LAST STAND plays out pretty much exactly the way one expects it to, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, since it ultimately is a by-the-numbers action flick tailored for the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In that regard, as a comeback vehicle for Schwarzenegger, it’s only moderately successful. Sure, Arnold is a strong screen presence, and he’s certainly proven in the past that he can carry a weak movie on his shoulders, and he does it again here, but in this case it’s pretty much a solo effort. He doesn’t get much help.
First off, there’s not much to get excited about in terms of its story. Before the anticipated “last stand,” the movie alternates between Sheriff Ray and his deputies, Agent Bannister’s frantic efforts to keep tabs on Cortez, and Cortez’ drive towards the border, where he and his hired thugs continually thwart the authorities’ efforts to derail him. With the exception of Ray, none of these folks are all that interesting.
The acting is fine, but the characters, especially the deputies, aren’t fleshed out enough to be the kind of quirky characters needed to make an action movie like this soar.
Luis Guzman is likeable enough as Ray’s main deputy Mike Figuerola, but the other deputies, including Jaimie Alexander, who we saw in THOR (2011), as Deputy Sarah Torrance, are all rather dull and one-dimensional. Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), an eccentric who runs a dilapidated gun museum full of vintage firearms, is supposed to be quirky and funny, but he comes off as goofy. The problem is none of these folks have an edge, and to think that they could outlast an army of hired gunslingers on the payroll of a notorious drug lord is flat out unbelievable.
It also doesn’t help that bad guy, Gabriel Cortez, isn’t a very effective villain. He looks about as hardened and threatening as a GQ model, and throughout the film, he never really does anything worthy of his ultra-bad guy reputation. He makes a weak foil for Schwarzenegger’s Sheriff Ray.
Peter Stormare, who plays Cortez’s right hand man Burrell, actually makes a better villain in this one, except during the “last stand” itself, when he suffers from a case of the “stupids” and allows his men to fire at everything but the folks aiming guns at them. They blow up everything in sight except for the deputies. Duh!
And Forest Whitaker as FBI agent John Bannister is plain annoying. He has a right to be annoyed in the movie— everything he does fails. His attempt to move Cortez is successful for all of five seconds before the whole plan falls apart. Whitaker ‘s Bannister spends the rest of the movie playing catch-up, constantly operating from behind Cortez’s lead, continuously having to deal with one failure after another. Instead of rallying his troops, he barks and whines at them, including at Ray.
There’s no rapport between Agent Bannister and Sheriff Ray at all. Bannister snubs his nose at Ray, thinking he’s just a small town sheriff, and once that happens, Ray pretty much ignores the FBI man for the rest of the movie.
One bit of fun casting has Harry Dean Stanton as a farmer who tries to force Burrell and his men off his land with a shotgun. It’s a great scene for Stanton, even if it only lasts a couple of minutes.
But you don’t see an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie to see the rest of the cast. You see it to watch Arnold. So, just how was Arnold in his comeback movie? I thought I detected a few spots of rust in his performance during several scenes of dialogue— not that Arnold has ever been heralded for his acting abilities— where he seemed to be just saying lines as opposed to speaking for real, but for the most part, he more than held his own. As a fan, I enjoyed watching Schwarzenegger just as much as I used to, and in spite of this mediocre film, I’m looking forward to watching him in future movies as well.
He was certainly my favorite part of THE LAST STAND. And while he didn’t have any amazing one liners, he did get to spout some halfway decent ones.
And that’s because the screenplay by Andrew Knauer and Jeffrey Nachmanoff is mediocre at best. The dialogue is average, and the story routine. It also fails to include a decent build-up to the final confrontation between Ray and his deputies and Cortez and his henchmen. There’s very little suspense along the way, so by the time you get to the titled last stand, it’s just sort of there without the necessary “I can’t wait to see what happens” feeling.
Part of this is because director Jee-woon Kim—who directed the highly touted horror movie I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) —fails to include any truly memorable scenes. THE LAST STAND offers none of the hardcore edginess and creativity found in I SAW THE DEVIL. This one’s strictly by the numbers.
Gun battles are the action scene of choice, and so if you like big guns firing nonstop, this is the movie for you. It’s rated R, and there’s lots of blood, a lot of it CGI unfortunately, but there are some gruesome deaths thrown in for good measure.
The initial gun battle between Ray and his deputies and Burrell’s men who are building the bridge is one of the better scenes in the film, and it was certainly the film’s most intense scene. The concluding “last stand” sequence was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because it wasn’t believable. The villains have superior numbers and firepower on their side, yet they’re just not that smart and seem to shoot at everything rather than at their opponents. When one of your men is shot by an old lady with a shotgun, you know it’s just not your day!
And when Schwarzenegger roles up his sleeves for a little hand to hand combat with baddie Cortez at the end of the movie, you just know he’s going to wipe the floor with this guy’s face. It’s like John Wayne taking on Jerry Lewis.
When all is said and done, THE LAST STAND is just a mediocre return to the big screen for Arnold Schwarzenegger. While Arnold himself is as entertaining as ever, the rest of the film is not.
I give it two knives.
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gives THE LAST STAND ~ two knives!