As the incessant debate over gun control and the prevalence of firearms in American culture rages, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s macho gun-totting, blood-drenched fantasy blasts into metroplexes around the country. While the Governator’s return to a leading big screen role is entertaining and well-paced in that pre-Sandy Hook kind of way, it might be impossible to actually enjoy. And if you do enjoy the film, you might be ashamed to share this fact on your Facebook page.
“The Last Stand” is a b-movie action thriller that would ordinarily find itself relegated to the VOD market. But for Schwarzenegger’s involvement, this film may never have made any news at all. And given the tragic events gripping the nation, the timing of the release is dangerously close to being in bad taste. The story involves some ridiculousness concerning the escape of a drug cartel leader from Federal lockup while he’s being transferred to death row. We learn this through a speech made to his fellow agents by Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), who explicitly briefs his heavily armed men more for our benefit than for theirs. In short order the cartel boss, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), escapes from his captors in thrilling fashion only to take flight in a supped-up concept race car. As the chase ensues, Cortez’ men begin to prepare for his re-entry to Mexico near a border town where Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) is the local sheriff.
As thrilling as this set-up to “The Last Stand” is, it is easy to pick holes in the plot. Cortez’ initial escape is smart and entertaining, but what he does next makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, except that it sets up the ultimate showdown with Sheriff Owens. What could have been something like “No Country for Old Men” via “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry” devolves into an R-Rated episode of “The A-Team.” Ask yourself why it would make sense for Cortez to mount an escape to Mexico using a concept race car and armies of henchmen? Wouldn’t a Coyote experienced in transporting Mexican workers in and out of the US be a much lower profile and efficient means of complete escape? But no matter, the scenes on the road are pretty exciting and will capture the “Fast and Furious” crowd as the concept car takes on Hummers, SUVs, and police cars with dazzling success.
Arnold, to be honest, looks old in the role. This is intentional and the film trades on his age for jokes casting the Sheriff as an underdog. Arnold’s early scenes are unconvincing and even distracting as he tries to re-ingratiate himself with old fans and win over a new generation. But after a period of adjustment, I found myself enamored again with the former body-building action super-star. And he has a few choice one-liners that left audience members chuckling. Still, “The Last Stand” is instantly forgettable. Arnold fails to make enough of an individual impression to convince either his die-hard fans or new ones that another action film starring him would be worth an investment. With Mark Wahlberg opening in “Broken City” this weekend, it is clear that the younger generation has an alternative as the mantle is passed to another tough guy, who can be funny and likable too.
Ultimately, “The Last Stand” might be the film that Schwarzenegger had to make to restart his career. Not as bad as something as of late with Steven Seagal in the lead, the film delivers spotty entertainment to viewers who may be weary of violent gun battles and are skeptical of the return of the Governator.