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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Last Stand

Arnie is back... it just takes a little time for him to get there...

Also up at Channel 24

What it's about:

A small-town sheriff (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his crew of ragtag, inexperienced deputies find themselves as the last line of defence against a ruthless drug boss dead-set on escaping the clutches of the FBI by crossing the border into Mexico. 

What we thought:

The long-awaited return of the former Governator to full on action hero mode may be the only truly noteworthy thing about the otherwise by-the-numbers The Last Stand, but that may just be enough to elevate it above the type of bottom-shelf, straight-to-DVD dreck that it otherwise so obviously is. 

Mind you, that's probably not entirely fair. While Arnie is undoubtedly the main draw of the film, Korean director Jee-woon Kim clearly knows his way around the genre and the film's action set-pieces are actually rather well done. He manages to maintain the high octane energy of most modern day action films with a sense of clarity of vision that recalls the best of the genre's '80s and '90s heyday – and this is no small feat, as all too many awful action films would attest. 

Would that I could say the same about the script. That the plot is entirely rote and predictable is neither surprising, nor particularly offensive. What's an action movie without generic conventions after all? What's less forgiveable though, is that because of the structure of the film, Arnie and crew are basically sidelined for much of the first half of the film. That's right, Ahnuld's big return to the genre that made him, features him doing very little of anything for the first half of the film's 107 minutes. 

What we get instead is a fair amount of Forest Whitaker's FBI director playing a cat and mouse game with an OK-ish but fairly forgettable villain, while Arnie and the audience wait for the chase to finally move to his neck of the woods. Whitaker is fine but this is the sort of role that he could play in his sleep and, while these scenes are handled perfectly well, they're really not what we came for.

Even more frustratingly, when the film does return to Arnie's small town, the big action set piece of the first half of the film focuses on a shoot-out between his deputies and some very well armed villains whose heavy artillery is presumably a conciliation prize for the unavoidable fact that they are basically glorified bridge-builders. Again, it's fine and Arnie's deputies are basically likeable (Luis Guzman especially) but, again, why has Arnie taken a back-seat in his own comeback?

The good news though, is that once Arnie finally takes centre stage, he quickly reminds us exactly why his return is such a big deal. Bruce Willis aside – and he's always been more of a "proper actor" anyway – Arnold Schwarzenegger was always by far the best of the action heroes of my teenage years and, based on the evidence here, he's well on the way to being the same for a whole new generation of action-crazed adolescent boys. Well, once you get past The Statham, anyway. 

Sure, Johhny ob(k)NOXiousVILLE does spoil things slightly – though even he is on better form than usual – but the second half of the film features almost nothing but pure Arnie goodness. The ridiculous stunts, that gloriously odd charisma and those all-so American quips delivered in that unmistakable Germanic accent: it's all still there and it all still kicks serious amounts of ass.This is what we were waiting for!

The Last Stand
 does admittedly benefit greatly by being released so close to the truly dire Die Hard 5 but it's still a pretty good reminder of just why Arnie has the fan base that he does. Even if we do have to wait forever for him to properly show up, it's pretty damn glorious when he does.

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