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Last Stand, The
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by Brett Gallman

"Yes, he's back."
4 stars

I�m not sure what the biggest story is coming out of �The Last Stand�: that Arnold Schwarzenegger is back or that Kim Jee-woon survived the transition to Hollywood mostly unscathed.

Perhaps we should have never doubted Schwarzenegger, whose method of acting is probably more akin to muscle memory than anything, but Hollywood hasn�t always been kind to foreign filmmakers. With �The Last Stand,� Jee-woon proves to be a refreshing exception, as the director�s fingerprints are felt throughout the film, particularly in its rollicking, brash mixture of stylized violence and humor.

Schwarzenegger is Ray Owens, a former LAPD member who decided to head south to take over sheriff�s duties in a sleepy border town. Along with a trio of deputies, he patrols the small town and locks up the occasional drunk. However, when a mastermind Mexican drug lord (Eduardo Noriego) escapes federal custody, he makes a beeline for the small town, which represents the last line of defense as he attempts to blow through the border.

With the exception of the villain�s plan, which involves a choreographed jailbreak, bribery, and the construction of a makeshift bridge into Mexico, �The Last Stand� isn�t all that elaborate, and its simplicity works in its favor. The setup allows Jee-woon to especially build the charming, folksy small-town world, where Schwarzenegger is sort of the center of gravity; however, he doesn�t swallow it whole. This might be his comeback vehicle, but it hardly feels like one since his presence feels muted compared to his more overpowering, cigar-chomping roles. Instead, this is sort of the Arnold from �Conan�: quiet, reserved, dignified, and maybe even vaguely human in the role of an ordinary man pressed into an extraordinary circumstance.

Rather than overpower his fellow cast members, he builds a solid rapport with them to ground the stakes. Jaime Alexander, Zach Gilford, and Luis Guzman serve as his deputies, and their inexperience is played up but not entirely mocked. These aren�t cartoonish yokels but characters that bring a lived-in quality, and the script isn�t afraid to dispose of some of them to bring a tangible sense of danger. The film is inhabited by several fun performances, not only from these main characters, but from the rest of the supporting cast.

Peter Stormare is incredibly wacky as a henchman and makes the case that he should have been the film�s main villain. Affecting some sort of exaggerated southern accent, he plunges into the role without hesitation. He�s complemented by Johnny Knoxville, who is remarkably tolerable in the role of the local gun aficionado; Jee-woon wisely relegates him to two key sequences, and he provides just enough comedy relief to keep this from �Jackass� levels of irritability. Incidentally, I�m not sure I would have ever guessed that Johnny Knoxville would get the best kill in an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick.

Usually, something like that would spell doom, but Jee-woon litters �The Last Stand� with thrilling sequences and helms them with a calculated precision. Thankfully, the director wasn�t absorbed into Hollywood�s chaos-theory when it comes to action movies, as there�s a crispness and cleanness to the various car chases and shootouts. The film�s centerpiece sequence is the meticulously staged siege that finds Arnold and company defending their turf from Stormare�s hired guns.

It�s a shame that action cinema has degenerated to the point where simple things�like geography and physicality�feel remarkable, but �The Last Stand� is a truly great throwback to the bruising, hard-boiled action films from previous decades. CGI is limited, as Jee-woon instead leans on good-old fashioned stuntwork, cool cars, and squibs. Save for a few moments (such as a guy exploding thanks to a flare gun), the violence isn�t quite played in over-the-top, splatstick fashion; instead, this is an action movie more in line with �Red Heat� and �Raw Deal� than �Commando� and �Total Recall� in the Schwarzenegger filmography. The film even climaxes in an old school, low-key brawl that takes advantage of Arnold�s weathered physicality (the film does not shy away from his creakiness and advanced age) and lands with bone-crunching force.

Best of all, though, �The Last Stand� is an unabashed Action Movie, one that�s delivered by a director whose cinematic verve has been obvious to anyone who�s followed his career for the past decade. Whether he�s dealt with atmospheric horror, morbid, black-hearted savagery, or slapstick action, he�s acclimated himself well, so maybe his easy transition to old-fashioned Hollywood Action Movie isn�t all that surprising.

It helps that �The Last Stand� affords him an icon like Schwarzenegger, but the real star is Jee-woon�s handling of the material. He allows the film to be fun without lapsing into parody; maybe it�s light and a little fluffy with its one-liners and reckless sense of abandon, but it�s refreshing in light of the post-millennial flood of action films that are either overly-severe or overly-reverential.

�The Last Stand� strikes a nice balance between these modes, and, as great as it is to have Arnold back, it�s even better to have him in the care of a director who actually bothered to put him in a good movie. This isn't just Jee-woon playing with an Arnold action figure--it's Jee-woon crafting a nice sandbox for it to inhabit too.

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originally posted: 01/21/13 07:33:17
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User Comments

2/23/14 Charles Tatum Brisk and surprisingly violent 4 stars
6/13/13 gc Bottom line if this were not an arnold movie it would have sucked. 3 stars
6/07/13 action movie3 fan small town sherriff beats FBI at their own game-very good 4 stars
5/27/13 mr.mike Pretty good home video rental 4 stars
1/22/13 Ronald Pottol Very good vintage Schwarzenegger, very fun. 4 stars
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  18-Jan-2013 (R)
  DVD: 21-May-2013


  DVD: 21-May-2013

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