The Last Stand (Grade: B)
Directed by Korean filmmaker Kim Ji-Woon, The Last Stand represents the funny contradictions of Hollywood’s “Americaness” that speak to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career as a whole—the Austrian bodybuilder who came to the United States, broke through playing mythic idols (Hercules and Conan), and went on to become one himself. Schwarzenegger came to embody the American dream of building oneself, not only in his ripped physique, but financially and politically. Unlike those born with an apple pie-laden spoon in their mouth, Schwarzenegger’s image is one that recognizes how to play at being American. At the best of times, Kim’s very distance allows him to do the same in The Last Stand.
A riff on the western and lone sheriff, Schwarzenegger plays an ex-Los Angeles cop, Ray Owens, who moves to a quiet town after having seen enough violence. When a top cartel leader, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), escapes and makes a run for the border of Mexico, Ray and his novice team are all that stands between him and escape.
The follow up to Kim’s I Saw The Devil (2010)—a ruthless examination of male vengeance which rides on the back of victimizing women—with The Last Stand Kim moves away from horror and back to the genre play of The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008). The results are as mixed as the title of his 2008 film. The good: Forest Whitaker as a semi-unhinged FBI agent plays his hammy lines straight, wheezing his way through a ludicrous script. (Referring to Cortez on the run in a supped-out car, he quips: “A psychopath in a bat mobile”). Crisp action sequences which play with perspective also raise the film beyond the casual shaky cam aesthetic, and the film is brilliantly structured with Cortez quite literally driving to a climax, cross-cutting between innovative car chases and Ray’s sleepy town.
Where things start to fall apart (the bad you might say) begins and ends with Johnny Knoxville. The Last Stand could very well be read as a satire of American gun culture, taking the homemade garrison mentality to the extreme. Knoxville, as the blundering gun hoarder and want-to-be sheriff Lewis Dinkum, however, panders to a base level of humour. All but a walking dick joke, he embodies the film’s conservatism uncritically—the darling doofus. That a major shoot-out involves a school bus also creates an uncomfortable tension following Newtown. The bus is used to block Main Street from the oncoming baddies, but watching the symbol of youth education get ripped up by automatic rifles feels all too soon. Though this is a case of poor timing, it also reveals the film’s struggle to negotiation laughs and satire.
As for the weird, Schwarzenegger dominates this realm. More wax-like than ever before, the script knowingly plays to the obvious cues in his life (“When I was your age all I wanted to do was move to L.A.,” he says to his young depute, Jerry [Zach Gilford]). Though it’s his comeback film, Schwarzenegger feels like a tropish afterthought, lumbering and delivering the clichéd lines. Based on this, it’s hard to imagine what innovation his return to cinema might bring, other than a further dose of nostalgia. As such, The Last Stand might be Schwarzenegger’s vehicle in name, but Kim’s work behind the wheel is what’s really worth watching.