Friday, 15 May 2015

The Last Stand (2013)

Following the success of The Expendables franchise, it was clearly only a matter of time before the old guard of '80s action movies returned to star in a clutch of new movies, older but not necessarily wiser.

Hot on the heels of the 2012 Walter Hill movie Bullet to the Head which saw Stallone back at the fore, came 2013's The Last Stand

Directed by South Korea's Kim Jee-Woon, director of The Good, The Bad and The Weird making his English language debut here, this pulpy action packed modern day western saw the return of the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Unlike some of those other musclebound cinematic heroes of my childhood, Arnie always seemed to be an unusually subversive figure in the popcorn action drama genre. It was as if the film makers intrinsically knew the guy was just too big, too dumb and too conspicuously a film star to even attempt any realism. Thankfully, Jee-Woon follows this deeply tongue in cheek, just go with it, approach right from the off; just look at the name of Arnie's character, Ray Owens, a name  which shows nothing of the actor's Austrian roots and everything about the film's first choice Liam Neeson, but this being an immensely silly film it refuses to change the character to incorporate Arnie, offering up no explanation whatsoever! Jee-Woon scores especially highly with this style during  the film's final stages which culminate in a huge gunfight in the titular last stand; a sleepy hick town in Arizona that Arnie's Sheriff presides over, which is in turn both excitingly tense, bloody and utterly hilarious.

The plot riffs off the old classic westerns like High Noon and Rio Bravo. It seems set to be another sleepy weekend in Summerton, Arizona but when Eduardo Noriega's drug-cartel kingpin escapes from FBI custody to head for the Mexican border via Summerton, the only people who can stop him are Arnie and his ragtag team of officers, Luis Guzmán, Zach Gilford and Jaimie Alexander - because clearly even a one horse town requires a hottie in a uniform - and whoever else he can deputise into action including washed up former Marine Rodrigo Santoro and local wacko and weapons enthusiast Johnny Knoxville. 

But the film can't stay on the straight path and Jee-Woon and scriptwriter Andrew Knauer throw a host of ridiculous additions to the plot, not least of all the small fact that when Noriega isn't running an international drug syndicate he's actually a part time racing car driver, which means his getaway is supplied by a modified Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1. As you do. 

Also lending themselves to the proceedings are Forest Whitaker as the federal agent hot on Noriega's trail and who underestimates Arnie's ''piss-ant country sheriff'', and Peter Stormare as Noriega's inside man on the ground in Summerton. I used to actually like Stormare when he first started out, but I've grown extremely tired of his cheesy pantomime villainy being wheeled out year in year out for this kind of hokum and I don't know what the fuck he thought he was doing with that accent. There's also a very small cameo from the legend that is Harry Dean Stanton, but it's totally undeserving of his presence and rather distasteful.

As with all great comic book fun, The Last Stand is at its best when revelling in the action or the inherent silliness (look out for a homicidal granny and the couldn't care less cafe dwellers who barely raise an eyebrow at the carnage going off around them) but suffers badly when the script solely requires dialogue and plot exposition, a focus on its thinly sketched characters and on the forced romance between Alexander and Santoro. But, leave your brain at the door, and you'll enjoy.

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