Being a film geek, it goes without saying that I love the cheesy films of Arnold Schwarzenegger! Hell, I was raised by his films from the 80’s. COMMANDO, PREDATOR, THE RUNNING MAN, the CONAN movies!!!! Awesome!!!! As he moved into the 90’s, I was still enjoying his films, like TOTAL RECALL, TERMINATOR 2, TRUE LIES, ERASER, KINDERGARTEN COP. Sure, there have been some misfires: BATMAN & ROBIN and LAST ACTION HERO, but for the most part you pretty much get what you expect from his flicks. It’s been 11 years since his last starring role (COLLATERAL DAMAGE, which I somehow missed), so I was really looking forward to this. A cheesy action film starring Arnold and directed by the guy who made I SAW THE DEVIL???? Yes, please! This film geek was pumped!
Arnold plays Ray Owens, Sheriff of the kind of small town that only exist in the movies. It’s his day off, so he’s just letting his deputies fuck around, like shooting at raw meat. Meanwhile, a very notorious criminal, Cortez, escapes custody while being transferred to death row. There’s a FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) that’s hot on his trail, but since Cortez is in some souped up super sports car, his team can’t catch him. Back at the ranch, Ray finds out that someone in his town was murdered. He also gets a call from the FBI agent, telling him that Cortez is heading towards his small town. Ray realizes that the murder and Cortez are connected. Before you know it, a bunch of bad guys show up to meet Cortez and all hell breaks loose. It’s up to Ray and his band of misfits (which includes a rookie, a female cop who is in love with a criminal who helps Ray, a token mexican played by Luis Guzman of course, and a crazy weapons collector played by crazy Johnny Knoxville) to defend the town and stop Cortez and his gang from crossing the Mexican border.
I probably don’t need to tell you that you need to leave your brain at the door for this one. This isn’t supposed to be a smart movie. It’s supposed to be a dumb, fun one. And it succeeds at that…. at times. Arnold is really good here. He has his stupid one liners (I’m the Sheriff!), but he also delivers a believable performance. I mean, he’s not delivering an Oscar caliber performance, but he’s improved his craft since the 80’s. He’s a slightly better performer now, and for this movie, that’s good enough.
The problem though is that for an Arnold movie…. he’s not in it enough. The movie takes way too long to set up the plot. There’s a 15 minute sequence that has Cortez escape while Whitaker is yelling at his team to catch him. We get a few scenes to establish how bad ass Cortez’s car is. We get a bunch of scenes setting up all of the towns people, and Ray’s deputies. But where’s Arnold? I mean, I would guess that he’s only in 25 minutes of the first hour, if that. It ends up being more of ensemble film. I was a bit disappointed by that because I wanted to see an ARNOLD movie. Not an “Arnold and his friends” movie. I guess that wouldn’t be that big of a problem, but the other characters aren’t all that interesting.
Whitaker does a decent job, but his character is pretty generic. Ray’s deputies are also pretty bland. I did like Luis Guzman, pretty much being Luis Guzman. There is some pleasure in seeing him shooting guns. Johnny Knoxville might irritate some people, as his character is pretty obnoxious, but I found him amusing in the same way I find annoying sidekicks in cheesy 80’s action movies. I also thought that Peter Stormare was fantastic! He plays Cortez’s main henchman, speaking with a horrible southern accent. He mugs every scene he’s in and I laughed at about everything he said. Unfortunately, the main villain, Cortez, is not interesting at all. It also doesn’t help that Eduardo Noriega gives a truly awful performance. His unintelligible accent made Swarzenegger sound like he was born in America. And the movie spends too much time with him. I really didn’t care. Oh yeah, I did like seeing Harry Dean Stanton in a bit part that was kind of funny.
Director Kim Jee-Woon doesn’t get much to do. He’s pretty much a filmmaker for hire here. All of the action scenes are well shot, but it doesn’t have his crazy style. Well, not for the whole movie anyway. In the last 30 minutes is where the movie picks up the speed. I thought the first hour dragged when Arnold wasn’t on the screen, but that final act was fun. It involves the big stand-off between Arnold and his band of misfits and Cortez’s gang shooting at each other on the small town’s main drag. There’s some ridiculous violence laced with tasteless dark humor that had me howling out loud. People explode, get run over and plugged full of tons of bullet holes. There’s also a neat car chase in a cornfield. It’s something I haven’t really seen before. The final action scene isn’t as good as the rest of the action, but it was fine.
Now, Arnold isn’t in every action moment in this movie. Every character gets their chance to shine during the big action scene at the end. It does make for a mild fun time. I did like all of Arnold’s scenes the best though. He has some great tough guy moments that had the audience cheer. This movie is just ridiculous and it knows it. It never pretends to be a “good” movie. And maybe that’s the difference between something like this and COMMANDO. That movie took itself very seriously, and this one is almost making fun of those types of films (not quite though). It’s a weird tone that I’m not sure I fully liked. The charm of Arnold’s older films (besides the fact that he’s in the whole movie) is that they never wink at the audience. And that’s what makes them fun. This one is trying to be fun. Maybe I don’t like that so much…
While I think there’s a good 30 minutes of fun, goofy action here, I found that the first half took way too long to set up what should have been a very simple plot. And a movie that advertises itself as a movie starring Arnold Swarzenegger, he sure spends a lot of time off-screen. Undemanding viewers will for sure be more kind to this. Several viewers at my screening were cheering, laughing and applauding during the flick. And with that said, I would say that if you are going to see this, see this with a late night crowd. It’ll be more fun that way, otherwise if you see it in an empty theater or at home, the movie will seem like the empty film that it is. It was a pleasure to see Arnold up on the big screen again, I just wish I got to see him more. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language.
– Running time: 1hr 47min.