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The Last Stand: Schwarzenegger is back
"I can't" --Sheriff Ray Owens
At one point in The Last Stand, Deputy Mike Figuerola (Luis Guzmán) pleads his boss Owens to step away from the job and let the FBI handle dangerous druglord-turned-fugitive Gabriel Cortéz. But Owens simply replies "I can't". Owens’ reluctance to quit shows his loyalty and commitment to his duty even if it means making a “last stand” against Cortéz. And like the Sheriff, Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't seem interested in stepping away from his job either
The Last Stand marks Schwarzenegger's official return to acting after a decade-long hiatus to serve as Governor of California. At 65 years old, this film might signal the beginning of the actor's "last stand" in Hollywood. Although at the pace he's been working lately, it might be a long one. Schwarzenegger had another film (Escape Plan) released in 2013, and several more after that, including returns to some of his most popular roles like Conan, Terminator, and Twins.
The Last Stand features Schwarzenegger as Ray Owens, a former Los Angeles Narcotics agent turned Sheriff of a small border town in Arizona. Despite his small and inexperienced workforce, Owens has to do what he can to stop Gabriel Cortéz (Eduardo Noriega), a vicious Mexican drug lord that just escaped from the FBI, and is headed towards the border on a souped-up Corvette.
The premise is a simple one, but that makes The Last Stand the most appropriate vehicle for Arnold's return. There is no past baggage like with Terminator or Conan, nor the high expectations than an elaborate big-budget film brings. From the beginning, it is clear where the film's ambitions are and what to expect from it. It's just a simple-minded action film with a few laughs, a-la Kindergarten Cop (though not as family-oriented) or True Lies (though not as good), and as such, it delivers. And by setting the bar not so high, Schwarzenegger can use the film to ease back into Hollywood again and perhaps to more high-profile roles and films.
Schwarzenegger seems comfortable in the role of Owens, and manages to joke and play with his age and weight, without it feeling like a set of pop-culture jabs. He doesn't pretend to look like the bodybuilder or action star of yesterday, but rather looks hunched, world-weary, and tired. He even tells his young deputy who wants to move to California to see more action that "L.A. is not all you think it is" which seems like an interesting quote, coming from him. Still, he becomes the reluctant hero in a more or less believable way. The role and the film is kept in mostly a serious tone, with some comedic undertones, and Schwarzenegger works well in both fronts.
Also, even though most of the supporting cast is serviceable, most of them stay on the sidelines plotwise. Zach Gilford and Jaimie Alexander are both convincing as Owens' young and inexperienced deputies. Rodrigo Santoro also does decent work as local-turned-deputy Frank, even though the romantic subplot with him felt unnecessary, cliché, and corny. Luis Guzmán might have felt a bit over the top as the older deputy, Mike Figuerola, but he has some moments. Forrest Whitaker feels underused as FBI Agent John Bannister as he mostly stays at the FBI bullpen wondering what went wrong. His best moment is during an early interrogation of a suspect, but other than that, he isn't given much to do.
In the side of the antagonists, Eduardo Noriega does what he can in the role of drug lord Gabriel Cortéz, but like Whitaker above, there isn't much for him to do other than drive a fast car and talk menacingly. Ironically, the best moments are given to his right-hand man, Thomas Burrell, played perfectly by Peter Stormare. Stormare understands the role and steals every scene he's in with his wicked, scenery-chewing.
I was also wary of Johnny Knoxville's involvement, but I was surprised to see his role was more sober AND smaller than I was led to believe by the trailers. Despite being heavily featured in some posters and trailers, his role as eccentric arms collector Lewis Dinkum and his moments with Arnold were shorter than expected, and he didn't become the typical "weird and young sidekick" that we've seen on other films. Despite the publicity around Knoxville, this is Arnold's film from top to bottom.
The film still has its flaws, obviously. There are some cheesy and silly moments here and there, some one-liners work while others don't, the last face off at the bridge between Owens and Cortéz seemed like a stretch and made the movie feel a bit too long... but still I had fun watching it. I appreciated the classic Western vibe of it all, and I'm also glad that the film managed to keep itself focused on an adult audience in regards to the violence and overall tone of the film.
The Last Stand might not be a masterpiece, but it doesn't pretend to be one either. Like I said above, it's just a simple action film to showcase Arnold Schwarzenegger. No more, no less; and Schwarzenegger seems to be enjoying his "last stand". On a 2013 interview with MailOnline by Elaine Lipworth, Arnold said about retiring “That’s not my style. I don’t understand it. Retire from what? From having fun?”. And that’s what he seems to be doing. I, for one, had fun with this film too, despite its obvious flaws, and will be looking forward to Schwarzenegger's next stand. Grade: B-
The Last Stand Official Trailer
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