Editor's note: This version corrects the name of actress Genesis Rodriguez.
For an A-list star like Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Last Stand is strictly B-grade filmmaking. As an action movie it's competent and routine, but as a comeback it's hardly memorable.
Still, The Last Stand was a smart choice by an actor who took a seven-year-plus break from Hollywood to serve two terms as California governor, and is no doubt itching to prove himself again as a viable box-office attraction. And as Ray Owens, the laid-back sheriff of the small Arizona town Sommerton Junction, the 65-year-old Schwarzenegger isn't tasked with too much, either. When we meet Sheriff Owens, he's enjoying the quiet life he's made for himself after leaving the Los Angeles Police Department.
But the town-wide calm is shattered soon after the arrival of two strangers, who Sheriff Owens surmises are up to no good the moment he sees them in the local diner. While his suspicions are correct, what he doesn't know is that the pair are employed by Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), the notorious leader of a Mexican drug cartel. Cortez is in the custody of FBI agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) and his team, and is scheduled to be moved from Las Vegas to a more secure location; this, in film terms, can only mean that a daring and deadly rescue by the drug kingpin is inevitable.
And so it is, and after the bungled prisoner transfer operation by the feds, Cortez zips through the dark and oddly deserted highways in a souped-up new-model Corvette as he speeds toward the Arizona-Mexico border. Cortez's hired hands blast and smash a path through several law-enforcement blockades for their boss, until the only obstacle remaining between he and sweet freedom are Sheriff Owens and his inept but brave deputies and their last stand to stop him.
Schwarzenegger's aging but still fit Sheriff Owens is the older and wiser hero, content to never use force again, but fully capable of slipping into kick-butt mode when necessary. It's clearly not Schwarzenegger doing the butt kicking, though, as proven by a rather obvious stunt double seen during much of Sheriff Owens' big showdown with Cortez. At least Schwarzenegger still can deliver his one-liners, though they're mostly forgettable and not particularly rousing: "Welcome to Sommerton," he tells a group of freshly gunned-down bad guys. And later he deadpans his reply to a villain's question of who, exactly, he is: "I'm the sheriff."
If The Last Stand is Schwarzenegger's petition to studio executives for more and better film roles then it's nothing more than a paycheck for Oscar winner Whitaker and dependable character actor Luis Guzmán, who delivers most of the laughs as one of the deputies. Also popping up for comic relief — though not particularly successful — is Johnny Knoxville as the gun-loving Lewis Dinkum, whose museum armament helps save the day and should make NRA members swell with pride.
The Last Stand is from South Korean director Jee-woon Kim. Best known for the horror-drama A Tale of Two Sisters and the psychological thriller I Saw the Devil, Kim is a gifted filmmaker who opts to play it safe with his first Hollywood film. With a budget of only $30 million, The Last Stand doesn't give him or his film crew much to work with either. The movie looks small — certainly by Schwarzenegger's blockbuster standards — and its pedestrian stunts and car chase sequences don't change that impression. Neither do many of the movie's actors.
Genesis Rodriguez is an actress most haven't heard of before and probably won't again. Rodriguez plays an attractive FBI agent kidnapped by Cortez, so you at least know why she was cast. For Noriega, it's not so obvious. His Cortez is hardly threatening — especially when compared to Benicio Del Toro's shrewd and violent Mexican drug cartel enforcer in last summer's Savages — and mostly forgettable.
The Last Stand's flaws in its production and casting don't matter, though, since the movie is really about Schwarzenegger's return as an action hero. And now that the actor is truly back, we'll soon learn how many of his fans still care.
The Last Stand
Directed by Kim Jee-Woon. Written by Andrew Knauer. A Lionsgate release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rating: R for strong bloody violence throughout and language. Running time: 107 minutes.
Critic's rating: **½
Ray Owens..........Arnold Schwarzenegger
John Bannister.....Forest Whitaker
Lewis Dinkum......Johnny Knoxville
Mike Figuerola.....Luis Guzman
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734.
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