Call me a nostalgic fool, but I miss the moment in time when action movies starred young people. Or, at the very least, people not yet eligible for social security. The first two months of this year bring us action vehicles starring Sly Stallone (66, Bullet to the Head), Al Pacino (72, Stand Up Guys) and Bruce Willis (a spritely 57, A Good Day to Die Hard). To borrow a turn of phrase from Danny Glover, these guys are getting too old for this s***.
But none of these films have a former governor in the lead role, unless Jesse Ventura snuck a film by me somewhere. That honor belongs to The Last Stand, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first post-Governator starring role. The set-up is relatively straightforward. Big bad drug cartel man Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) escapes the custody of FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) and flees for the Mexican border. As in most action movies, the FBI is incompetent, so the task of stopping him falls to local sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) and his rag-tag group of deputies and enlisted locals (most notably Johnny Knoxville and Luiz Guzman).
Among many flaws, one stands out as truly tragic: you know the parts with Arnold and his deputies that you’d expect to be corny and absurd? They’re actually quite entertaining! Knoxville and Guzman are reliably offbeat actors, and they bring a winning energy to the action sequences. Sure, the dialogue and plot are perfunctory and clichéd, and Arnold reads stiltedly, but it never verges into the land of the truly terrible.
Oddly enough, it’s the lone Oscar winner in the cast who brings the whole proceedings to a screeching halt. The film spends about half of its runtime with the FBI and Cortez, and to call it boring would be an understatement. Whitaker’s performance is so phoned-in that he must owe substantial late fees to Verizon Wireless, and Noriega is simply dull. As a result, the first hour or so suffers from serious pacing issues from which it never really recovers.
That being said, if you ever see the film on HBO and it’s already an hour in, it would be worth tuning in for the titular “Last Stand” at the border town. Director Ji-Woon Kim is an artist when it comes to violence, able to keep the proceedings unserious and heightened without becoming self-knowingly over-the-top, a la Crank or Shoot ‘Em Up. The film loves gunplay (perhaps too much for some: by an accident of unfortunate political timing, it may be the most brazenly anti-gun control film ever made), and when Arnold and the guy from Jackass are shooting up random bad guys, the film comes alive. Unfortunately, 30 good minutes do not a good feature make. Arnold may, shockingly, have some energy left in the tank, but the former Mr. Universe isn’t strong enough to lift up the film around him.