Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Last Stand, Arnold's Return to Average Action

     Arnold Schwarzenegger's last starring role was all the way back in 2003, when he again took the role of the T-800 in the third (and disappointing) installment of the Terminator franchise. Coming back from his long and political hiatus, the Austrian actor has chosen a film that exists directly in the middle of his comfort zone, a film that's full of one-liners, the bang bang of a various assortment of guns, and a laughable script that only serves the purpose of propelling the film into it's next car chase. I actually was interested (and sort of excited for) The Last Stand for one reason: the director, Jee-Woon Kim, who created one of my favorite films of 2010, I Saw the Devil. But going into Arny's latest with any sort of expectations at all is a bad decision: the film is unfunny and unspectacular, and though it has a few moments of inspired stylistic violence, it's just a typical not-very-good extremely violent action movie.
     You'd never know my opinion of the film just by listening to the crowd's reaction during the screening: women and men alike were laughing it up during every quip or look at Johnny Knoxville's funny hats. It's almost as if Jackass has earned Knoxville a lifetime of good will the the movie-going public. My usual movie date (Chief) even had an interaction with a stranger on the way to the bathroom where the man exclaimed how excited he was to witness Knoxville's hilarious hijinx! I haven't been this disappointed with the plight of humor in film in a while.
     But Knoxville's just a sidekick, and Arnold is the film's clear star. He portrays Ray, the Sheriff of a small Western town near the Mexican border. He likes the quiet life, sipping a cold brew with his feet up after a stint in the LAPD narcotics division when he was younger. The town's small (seemingly too small, as there is no real sign of a population other than a select few cast members because there's a football game out of town), and low on crime. He's got a few deputies that are basically useless and are there for comic relief (namely Luis Guzman's Mike), though I don't think I ever laughed at him once or even cracked a smile.
     After a truly atrocious first twenty minutes or so, the film switches to a few more characters in Las Vegas that are far more interesting: Forest Whitaker as FBI agent John Bannister and Eduardo Noriega as violent and captive prisoner Cortez. During a transfer of Cortez, he escapes in an inventive sequence that adds some flair to the film and sets up the plot that brings the two groups of characters together: Cortez steals a suped-up Corvette (he's conveniently got experience as a race-car driver) and attempts to make his way to the Mexican border, with the FBI chasing him along the way and Arnold and the Unfunny Gang making their "last stand" in the sleepy border town.
     Most of the film is completely throwaway until the last 30-40 minutes, when the action and explosions finally become relentless and sort-of fun and an inventive cornfield car chase catches your attention. Director Jee-Woon Kim, whose style was totally badass and exciting in his Japanese films (this is his first foray into American cinema), doesn't do anything particular special here except for a couple innovative death scenes that are particularly gory. Arnold Schwarzenegger is 65 years old, and one has to question his motives ($) in returning to this type of action film: he looks every year of his age, and he's only involved in a few of the actual gun fights in the film. He's also in a hand-to-hand combat scene that is cool but clearly benefits from quick-cutting to not notice his stunt double.
     So here we are, the month of January, the dumping grounds of the cinematic landscape every year--and every year I hope for something different, something actually surprising and exciting (actually got it last year with The Grey). The Last Stand had some potential, with its clearly talented director and Arnold's ability to make action fun, but by the end it's all just predictable and uninspired, including a script that is boring and lazy and a cast of sidekicks that are forgettable. It's a violent mash of one-liners and heads exploding that makes me yawn instead of yell with excitement.     (C-)

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