29 January 2013


In the midst of all the in-jokes and macho camaraderie that glued The Expendables 2 together, and specifically in the midst of a climactic firefight, there's an exchange between Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. When Arnie throws out his most famous catchphrase, Willis cuts him off and says "You've been back enough. I'll be back." It's not hard to imagine how The Last Stand would have been less interesting if it had been Willis starring, rather than Schwarzenegger.

But I'll get back to why that has any relevance at all in due time. Schwarzenegger makes his big action hero comeback as Sheriff Ray Owens, a giant, slightly wearied Austrian-American who enjoys the simple pleasures of looking after Sommerton Junction, a small town located on the border between the US and Mexico. Elsewhere, the FBI loses track of Cortez, an international drug lord who immediately hightails it towards the border. Ultimately, only Ray and his deputies will stand between Cortez and freedom.

There's a very neat wildcard at work here, which elevates The Last Stand above the level of Bullet To The Head and A Good Day To Die Hard, the upcoming films that have been trailered before it. All three of these films are in the vein of The Expendables, as latter-day action movies for the stars who ruled Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s, but only one of them has Korean director Kim Jee-Woon overseeing the fun. Watching the director's prior films would set you up for an unrealistic expectation of this one, but it doesn't mean he's not working differently to just about every other director of a movie like this.

While the script adheres fairly closely to action movie formula, what this film actually turns out to be is an interestingly international perspective on the American Western. It's not an outside perspective that deconstructs and blows up the genre, because America has been doing that on the inside ever since Clint Eastwood started crossing between sides of the camera, and perhaps earlier. It's probably not as interesting as Jee-Woon's acclaimed The Good, The Bad And The Weird, either, but that's a film I haven't seen. I still feel inclined to say that I enjoyed the way that this played out this most American of genres, but with an Austrian immigrant.

The difficulty, as it always was even before Schwarzenegger started governating, is that the leading man isn't the world's greatest actor. The requirements of the script aren't exactly beyond his talents, but there's the same deficiency of really solid one-liners that diluted his apparent comeback in the Expendables movies, leaving him with the same jokes about how he's older now that have littered other movies like this. Although he's top-billed, it doesn't feel like the big comeback, with the craziness, and with his name in all-caps as it was above so many 90s titles, that I'd have liked. It's for this reason I'm more excited about The Legend of Conan than most.

And still, imagine if it had been Bruce Willis who had been back here, as promised by that limp gag? Willis has had a pretty good year in films like Moonrise Kingdom and Looper, and you could imagine the sheriff role appearing to be a sensible progression from John McClane's "yippi-ka-yay"-ing to his later career as an action star. What seems to be understood in casting Arnie is that the especially contemporary baddy, played with panache by a smirking Eduardo Noriega, doesn't see Ray as a threat, and he's underestimated by just about everyone else too. Willis looks as tough as he ever did, where Schwarzenegger can be underestimated, just for how out-of-place he appears. That works for the story, rather than against it.

The Last Stand is Schwarzenegger's High Noon, bearing in mind that we're talking on a relative scale here, in which True Lies probably counts as his North By Northwest. It's hampered by a whole bunch of inutterable dialogue, but bolstered by a number of memorable moments, by the rediscovered surliness of its leading man, and by a supporting cast in which the likes of Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville seem to have been picked and deployed for their OBP, fully supporting without misfiring, or distracting from the big guy. There's good, and bad, but if there's not enough weird, then it doesn't detract from an enjoyably blunt take on Western tropes.

The Last Stand is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Last Stand
, why not share your comments below? Anyone else seen Arnie's last foray into Westerns?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch. 

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