The Last Stand

The Last Stand

Written by Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, and George Nolfi
Directed by Kim Ji-woon

The Last Stand
My hand is huge!

We got both a return of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Hollywood debut of Kim Ji-woon with the modern day western The Last Stand. But is the title prophetic and a sign that we should stay away? If you are looking for amazing action and a return to form for an actor turned politician, then you might want to keep waiting. But if you want a good forgettable action flick with some funny parts, then The Last Stand is a passable January release. It isn’t terrible, it’s just we’ve seen much better from both the star and the director, so things come out disappointing. And that’s the worst sting of all.

Kim Ji-woon is no stranger to Westerns, he directed The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, one of the best Western-inspired films ever. He’s also responsible for I Saw The Devil, one of those films that people watch and then describe with a single emoticon of a traumatized face staring into the distance. Kim Ji-woon is the first of three popular Korean directors who are making their Hollywood debut in 2013 (Bong Joon-ho with Snowpiercer and Park Chan-wook with Stoker are the other two.) He’s also the only reason I had any interest in taking the time to see The Last Stand.

I am sorry to say that things are up to Kim Ji-woon’s normal standards of excellence. But The Last Stand isn’t a wash, either. It follows the normal arc progression of a Western with the eventual showdown against the gang by the Sheriff and his deputies. There is a lot of scattered action sequences throughout the buildup, as the cartel leader escapes from captivity then carves his way through increasingly incompetent police roadblocks via increasingly ridiculous ambush attacks.

The Last Stand
Minimalist action theater

In the usual Western, the baddies are constantly harassing the town, the people the Sheriff likes and loves, and the danger is more personal. As Gabriel Cortez is more of a guy who is just passing through town, The Last Stand attempts to counter this by having some of his gang in town building an escape bridge. The gang causes trouble and is involved in a firefight with the Sheriff’s office. Though the gang’s leader is played by awesome dude Peter Stormare, the rest are all faceless militia types and there isn’t enough there to make them feel so evil you cheer when the hero kills them.

Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – Arnold is the sheriff of Summerton Junction, where he went after a shootout went wrong during his career as an LA narcotics squad detective. He now deals with local town with small town troubles, but sometimes big trouble comes by.
Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) – Forest Whitaker plays the desperate FBI agents who gets stymied at every turn by Gabriel Cortez’s escape. A role that requires a lot of yelling on the phone as whatever plan is happening goes terribly wrong.
Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) – The evil drug cartel leader and world class racer, driving down deserted desert roads at 197 mph. But he is too fast and not enough furious to deal with the Terminator!
The Last Stand
Police Academy: Honey Boo-Boo

LA’s transfer of notorious drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez to death row goes off without a hitch, if the plan was for him to easily escape and head towards Mexico in a car that can go 200 mph. That probably wasn’t the plan considering how upset Agent Bannister is. Cortez uses his super car and an army of gang members to blast and crash his way south, heading right towards the sleepy border town of Summerton Junction that Sheriff Owens calls home.

Summerton Junction’s force consists of the Sheriff and three deputies, the squad more accustomed to dealing with town drunks and shooting at sides of beef than any actual crime. Most of the population is away at the championship football game, so Sheriff Owens’ expectations of a relaxing weekend are dashed when suspicious characters roll through, a farmer is discovered murdered, and Owens gets a call from Bannister about Cortex possibly heading their way.

The Last Stand
Community Statue!!!!
The Last Stand
I want a statue on Community!

The calm and idyllic surroundings in the town make the acts of violence there more disturbing, but this contrast is dashed by the precision military assaults on police committed by Cortez while on the run. It almost becomes a sort of crazy Fast and Furious knockoff. The super car flipping much bigger cars out of the way, dodging and weaving through its pursuers with ease. Even the SUVs filled with guns blazing doesn’t seem out of place after Fast and Furious 5.

The slick sleek escape vs. the old country sheriff and his force full of inexperienced misfits would seem no match, luckily there is a gun “museum” run by Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville playing his best Mad Dog Murdock from The A-Team) that evens the score. While I though the earlier actions scenes were sort of one-sided and uninteresting, when the Sheriff’s squad is defending their town from Cortez’s men the fight gets interesting (and the film finally picked up!)

The battle jumps from slow to chaos to slow, the firefight existing just as confusing and dangerous as a real battle. The way it’s shot is sort of a mix of Saving Private Ryan vs. the fight in the Ghost Market in The Good, The Bad, and the Weird. One good thing about The Last Stand is it doesn’t mess around with it comes to showing just what a gun does to a body. Kim Ji-woon can do action well, and saved his best work for the last part of the film. Exactly what the final battle on a bridge between a legal immigrant and a crime lord attempting to sneak back into Mexico says about the US is best left to rambling paragraphs from dudes with websites. Let’s just say self-deportation is not the desirable outcome. The criminals are shown more militarized than the law enforcement, only be escalating the arms race to the level of an actual war do the heroes stand a chance.

The Last Stand
Fast? Furious? We’re the guys with the guns.
The Last Stand
Getting all Blues Brothers up in here!

Arnold is an old man now, walking around with obviously dyed hair, and spends the film beating the crap out of guys half his age. He’s part of that whole generation of older action heroes, time creeping up on them. The Expendables generation. As the action heroes approach towards mortality inches into their films, their age unable to be hid due to Hollywood magic, the films become more introspective, reflective. And elements must be added to keep things from getting too unbelievable. Bruce Willis jokes of high cholesterol in GI Joe 2 and enlists his son’s help to yippee-ki-yay in Die Hard 5. Stallone plays a retired and serene Rambo who is forced to do violence again, but also finds a way to get home. Everyone shows up in the Expendables flicks to be old and gun down dozens of scrappy youngsters. The look on aging mirrors the baby boomers and their slides to retirement and AARP memberships. And the youngsters accept our heroes as old because we’ve always seen them older, as father figures (often for those of us without dads.) The reflection will continue to play out as long as the big heroes are bringing in box office returns, but you can’t imagine Arnold in a wheel chair taking out cyborgs. Okay, maybe I can. Let’s build that wheelchair…

Though the showdown in the town and the battle on the bridge were both interesting, I don’t see this as Arnold’s return to form, more of a warm up before the big game. So hopefully a big game comes soon, otherwise Arnold will be like those quarterbacks that can’t seem to stay retired far past their prime. As for Kim Ji-woon, I hope this leads to bigger and better things, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he heads back to Korea.

The Last Stand
I’m glad he brought his driving gloves!
The Last Stand
Cornfields are the new favorite tracks for semi-pro racing

Disclaimer: I saw this on yet another free screening as Tars sells out again!

Rated 6/10 (goggles, panda, 197 on an undercover cop, Peter, Luis, magnet)

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2 thoughts on “The Last Stand

  1. I really think this movie gets better with each new viewing. I still need to check out more of Kim Ji-woon’s work. and the Director of The Host

    • The Foul King was one of the first Korean films I saw, and The Good, The Bad, The Weird is one of my favorite films. Also I hope they finally release Snowpiercer in the US, and uncut! This waiting is ridiculous.

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