No one was more skeptical of this thing that I was. We all saw Arnie’s big return in Expendables 2, and to say it was less than spectacular isn’t so much an understatement as it is a “burrowed to the Earth’s core” statement. So like most people I was prepared for The Last Stand to be an embarrassing farce.
But then the movie did something not many expected. It was kind of awesome.
Let’s get the plot stuff out of the way. Arnie is a small town sheriff with an Austrian accent no one ever addresses, because why start now I suppose. Normally his duties involve the usual getting cats out of trees, busting drunk drivers, and clearing up the occasional cult because some jag-off rented The Wicker Man again and got over-excited. But when an escaped convict and Colombian druglord comes busting through town on his way to the Mexican border with a truckload of goons, Arnie and his deputies (Who by the end of the movie include Luis Guzman, Sif from Thor and Johnny Knoxville, so good luck and God speed, man) have to fend off the horde of heavily armed mercs because….honor, or something. Also probably some subtext about gun control and maybe even border crossings.
Of course, in spite of what the trailers and whatnot tell you, this is really only the third act. For the rest we get Forrest Whitaker as the FBI agent who lost the bad guy in the first place, in the process of trying not to lose the bad guy, losing the bad guy, failing to recapture the bad guy and walking around a room full of screens barking orders about what they should do about the bad guy. It’s not the best role he’s ever seen, I know.
That’s the basic set-up and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it all sounds incredibly dumb. And it is. Incredibly. But what makes The Last Stand so much fun (And it is. Incredibly) is that unlike certain other recent action movies that try and be all serious and straight and wind up just feeling dumber for it (cough Expendables cough cough) The Last Stand knows it’s dumb. It knows the entire premise is silly and over the top. And rather than remedy that, which would be the sensible and boring thing to do, The Last Stand says instead “So how can we make this even MORE silly and over the top?”
Everything that can be done is over done. When the bad guy escapes, he does it by having his cronies pick up the prison transport he’s in with a magnetic crane, deposit it on the top of a building and then jump to the next building over on ziplines. Fucking ziplines! For his race to the border, he doesn’t just steal a car, he steals a thousand horsepower supercar which is literally referred to as the Batmobile. Everything is exaggerated, in every way. Every killshot is an orgasm of red goo and bits and followed up by a cheesy one liner. If an angle CAN be Dutch, it WILL be Dutch, and you will thank it for it.
In short, it’s every bit the cheesy, silly, and flat-out FUN tribute to 80s and 90s popcorn action flicks that The Expendables wasn’t. Part of this also comes from the excellent direction by South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-Woon. The action scenes are crisply and cleanly filmed, with enough style to make them memorable. And it is memorable, believe you me. Whereas The Expendables shot itself in the foot with deadpan seriousness and awful execution, The Last Stand succeeds at every turn in harking back to the glory days of American action movies by being well assembled, clever, and fully embracing its own silly nature.
Yeah, it isn’t the all-out action extravaganza it may quite be touted as, but once that third act rolls around, things get so crazy that if you’re the right kind of person, you’ll have a big fat grin over your face the entire time. Johnny Knoxville spends the entire end of the movie dressed like Joxer the fucking Mighty from Xena and kills a guy (spectacularly, I might add) with a flare gun, in flagrant defiance of how a flare gun actually works.
The cast is a who’s who of “That guy”s, with Guzman, Peter Stormaire failing spectacularly to pull off a Texan accent and Harry Dean Stanton as Harry Dean Stanton. The people you may end up actually recognizing pull of a decent job. Forrest Whitaker, despite the limitations of the role, does ok, and Jaimie Alexander continues to impress. Johnny Knoxville does a decent job as the unapologetic “Rob Schneider” of the movie, never quite becoming annoying and manic enough to spoil the fun. And how’s Arnie? Arnie’s Arnie. He can’t deliver a line coherently, his intonations are almost always wrong, and he lumbers through the non-action scenes like a particularly graceless bear with joint pains. But he at least creates the illusion that he’s still built like a brick shithouse and when it comes to getting behind an impossibly large gun and reducing guys to sprays of red paint and pasta sauce, he can still make it look convincing.
About twenty minutes in to The Last Stand I realized this is actually the first jew movie I’ve seen in theaters this year (which means yes, I still haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty or Django, and yes, shame on me) and I can’t think of a better movie to start the year on. It’s dumb, shallow fun at its very finest, and the only other thing I can think to say is….welcome back, Arnie. Things have been boring without you.