There is an extended sequence in The Last Stand that takes place in an expansive corn field with nothing but corn for as far as the eye can see, and the field contained less corn than the film as a whole. Outside of two turns in Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables series (and a computerized pseudo-cameo in Terminator: Salvation), Arnold Schwarzenegger has not been seen in a film, much less starred in one, since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Unfortunately, he chose this poor excuse for celluliod to usher in his comeback. Riddled with more holes than would be produced by all the rounds shot in the movie, the plot revolves around weathered small-town “Sheriff Ray Owens” (Schwazenegger), who must stop Mexican Drug Kingpin “Gabriel Cortez” (the oddly but aptly named Eduardo Noriega) from passing through his town of Sommerton (which I think is the same small town that Thor was set) to cross the border into Mexico in a super-souped-up sports car. Yes, it sounds like something from the films of The Austrian Oak’s 80's action hero reign; too bad it’s nowhere near as entertaining. It makes End of Days look positively enjoyable by comparison.
Directed by Jee-Woon Kim, the film feels like vintage John Woo-lite, where America is seen through a jingoistic lens of fast cars and artillery, because that’s what seems to be the film’s raison d’etre, as each is showcased in an almost obsessively lustful fashion. So much so, it’s at the expense of what passes for characterization.
The performances are annoyingly over the top. Luis Guzman, a reliable, entertaining character actor for which subtlety was never a strong suit, overplays his “Deputy Mike Figuerola” to caricature. As “Lewis Dimkum”, Johnny Knoxville makes what seems to be a lame attempt at channeling John Malkovich’s “Marvin Boggs” character from RED; his performance is nothing we haven’t seen before and done better (though, admittedly, he manages to eke out a few chuckles in a film much in need of them as it takes itself way too seriously). And, in what is starting to look like stock typecasting, the usually marvelous Forrest Whitaker is yet again cast as a law enforcement official who is rendered figuratively impotent through adversarial one-upmanship. As the villain, Cortez is one-note; all he’s really required to do is look rakishly smarmy and drive real fast. In fact, it’s rather unfair to pick out specific “performances” as all the characters are three-dimensional clichés: The weathered warrior, the unrepentant antagonist, the troubled lovers, the frustrated and borderline incompetent federal agent, the plucky side-kick, the sacrificial lamb, the evil henchmen…they’re all here in by-the-book evidence.
The most egregious thing about this film is that it tries so hard to be anything other than a typical Schwarzenegger film (kills followed by witty one-liners, "taking out" multiple villains by himself) it does nothing except call attention to the fact that it’s a Schwarzenegger film. The years have not improved Schwarzenegger’s acting ability. By sight, the actor looks both big and frail at the same time, which in this case befits his seen-too-much character. When it comes down to the action, he can still deliver. Unfortunately, his line delivery is more stilted, and groan inducing, than ever before. He seems out of touch with his surroundings, as if he exists in a pocket dimension outside of his environs; like he’s simply waiting for his cue rather than engaging the other actors. Maddeningly, like most other films of recent years that have showcased the action heroes of decades past, there are a distracting plethora of “grandpa” references at the star’s expense. Enough! We get it! He’s old! Stop trying to justify why someone that “old” would still be an action star. If the intent is to prove that the war horses can still kick ass, the message is being undermined by the underlying derisiveness in the message. Just let the performance and story speak for itself. Yet there’s not much by way of story here. In fact, it even fails as an old fashioned shoot-‘em-up simply due to the fact that Kim’s pacing is ploddingly choppy. There is one, maybe two “that was cool” stunt moments but that is hardly enough to justify sitting through two hours thereabouts of pure, unmitigated dreck.
Hopefully, Schwarzenegger’s return to the worlds of Terminator, Conan, and Twins will give the movie going audience a better return for their box office buck. However, The Last Stand is a waste of both time and money. One hopes that this film's title does not presage the results Schwarzenegger’s comeback efforts.