The film starts out in a sleepy little town that seems to consist of one main street, five buildings, a farm somewhere and very few actual houses. It’s a town so small, it’s surprising that it even shows up on a map. Of course, that’s just the way Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) likes it. As he explains to one of his deputies, he used to thirst for adventure but after finally dealing with far too much violence in Los Angeles, he longs for peace and quiet. However, peace and quiet isn’t in the cards for Ray, at least not today.
A group of bad guys with an insane amount of firepower set up shop on a local farmer’s land. They kill off the farmer (Harry Dean Stanton, in one of the film’s many thankless roles) and go about their business. By the time local law enforcement finds the farmer’s body, there’s already an elaborate construction job going on at the canyon and more blood is ready to be shed.
Meanwhile in Las Vegas, an FBI task force led by Forest Whitaker (thankless role #2) is transporting the head of a Mexican drug cartel (Eduardo Noriega – THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, OPEN YOUR EYES) to death row. The transfer doesn’t go as planned. Agents are killed, the kingpin escapes and an FBI agent (Genesis Rodriguez – MAN ON A LEDGE, CASA DE MI PADRE) is taken hostage.
Of course, this is no ordinary jailbreak. It involves people driving wreckers in the middle of the city, as well as dozens of decoys running around, sending the feds on a wild goose chase. The kingpin is driving an experimental Corvette capable of reaching speeds around 200mph. And yes, car fans, we get to see him cause all sorts of mayhem on these desert highways – none of which seem to have any turns. He also has plenty of backup firepower waiting at his beck and call, seemingly aware of where every trap and roadblock will be placed. And not even the bad guys from Arnie’s town are up to anything normal. They are building a “mobile assault bridge” over the canyon to transport the kingpin back to Mexico – a bridge whose construction equipment makes no sound throughout the wide valley.
This film is short on logic, which is actually a good thing. If this film took itself too seriously, it would be a pretty depressing film, what with all the innocents getting sadistically slaughtered. But once the good guys begin blowing up the bad guys with flare guns, you know the film has its tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Still, all of the above is the first of the two movies I mentioned. And it’s not that the film is bad, it’s that it isn’t very noteworthy. We now have five Jason Statham films a year, some of which do a better job with the crazy than this one. It’s not as if director Kim Jae-woon (I SAW THE DEVIL, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS) brings any of his trademark flare here. No, he plays things disappointingly straight here and despite a few nice shots, it doesn’t aid to make this action film feel any different from a dozen other action films. Also, I must agree with fellow Film Geek Central editor, Austin Kennedy. THE LAST STAND spends a lot of time focusing on people we don’t care about. But I’ll be a little more specific and place blame in one spot in particular.
The film spends way too much time with the Forest Whitaker character. Whitaker is a good actor and could do this in his sleep, which in fact may be what he’s doing here. The only reason to keep going back to Whitaker and the FBI people is so they can provide exposition about the kingpin’s escape vehicle, or explain why the feds are barking up the wrong tree. All of this could have been accomplished in a little more than five minutes worth of material. Unfortunately, a huge amount of screen time is taken up with what the audience already knows is going to be a dead-end.
The salvation of the film comes in the second half, when audiences get to see what they paid for. One Sheriff Owens and his deputies prepare for the city under siege, things start looking up. Once the siege begins, the film becomes very enjoyable indeed. There are insane shootouts, people in jeopardy and a wonderful cat and mouse chase through a cornfield, just to name a few highlights.
I have to admit that while I enjoy many of Schwarzenegger’s older films, I always had one issue with him. It’s an issue that lent itself to some of his crazier roles and hurt others. Let’s face it, Arnold is no ordinary human being. Both physically and with the way he carries himself in a film, he’s a superman. He wasn’t named Mr. Universe for nothing, after all. This works well when his characters are larger than life such as in CONAN THE BARBARIAN or COMMANDO, more than human like in THE TERMINATOR or a giant in a world of little people (TWINS and KINDERGARTEN COP). However, whenever he tried to play an everyman, it always rang a little false with me. Sometimes, the films succeeded anyway, such as in TOTAL RECALL (I’m sorry, but how do you “hide” somebody like that, anyway?). Sometimes, the films fell flat such as in the abysmal JINGLE ALL THE WAY. He’s an everyman in THE LAST STAND, albeit one with a past. And yet, perhaps because of time or the restrained performance, it’s more believable this time out and I didn’t have a problem with it this time. Even his unmistakable accent gets a humorous and completely excusable throwaway line that humanizes the character even further. Nice work, Arnie. High marks.
THE LAST STAND really delivers in its second half and it’s frustrating that we focus on so much irrelevancy to get to this point. Perhaps once the film comes out on DVD, some wily fan editor will cut the film down to 80-90 minutes and trim a lot of the fat out. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language.
– Running time: 1hr 47min.
Want a second opinion? Then read Austin’s review of THE LAST STAND here!
And don’t forget to check out what Austin, Jesse and I have to say about EVERY film released in 1985. It’s our very own podcast, FILM GEEK CENTRAL PRESENTS: THE FILMS OF 1985, available now!!!!