The Last Stand Review: Totally Expendable
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The Last Stand Review: Totally Expendable

By Daniel Carlson | Film Reviews | January 18, 2013 | Comments ()

The Last Stand.jpg

Thinking about The Last Stand is a little like watching it: After a moment, torpor sets in, and you find yourself wondering what's happening, and why, and whether you're really awake. I find myself struggling to rebuild the story in my head, only to realize that there's far less to it than what wound up on screen. It's Arnold Schwarzenegger's first leading role in a decade, and it's embarrassingly boring. It didn't have to be this way, either. There's plenty of room in the world for fantastic smart-dumb action, like last year's Lockout, the kind of movies whose playfulness and mayhem are reassuring in their predictability. But The Last Stand doesn't have any spark of life, and certainly nothing in it to make it memorable. It feels very much like a movie made by a man whose time has mostly passed, and who isn't quite sure how to catch up. Schwarzenegger's most recent film appearances were in the Expendables films, goofy blow-outs that riffed on the kind of action vehicles that made Schwarzenegger famous in the first place, but his return to a starring role sees him almost castrated by a safe, quiet, dull action movie. The movie's a disappointment not because it's undemanding -- this is still Schwarzenegger we're talking about -- but because it's scared to go all the way.

Don't get me wrong: It's plenty dumb, too. The basic plot deals with a Mexican drug kingpin named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), who escapes from federal custody in Las Vegas while he's being transferred between secure locations. With the help of a team of interchangeable teammates and a heavily promoted Corvette ZR1, Cortez heads for the border with a federal hostage riding shotgun. His crossing point: Sommerton Junction, Arizona, where he's already dispatched an advance team to prep the roads that will take him back home. However, Sommerton's guarded by Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) and his stunningly inept deputies, so things won't be quite as smooth as Cortez wants them to be, though they still go really well for a while. The car is low enough to the ground that it can nose up and flip other cars, and it can also outrun a helicopter. They actually say that it can, out loud and everything. Road blocks are also no match for the car, and because there are only apparently half a dozen working law enforcement vehicles in the southern United States, and no one thought to bring a spike strip, Cortez pretty much flies to Sommerton unimpeded.

Director Kim Ji-woon handles all this with a minimum of heart. Whether he's limited by the script (originally by Andrew Knauer, then rewritten by Jeffrey Nachmanoff and "supervised" by George Nolfi) or just bored with anything resembling character is hard to tell. Ray's given shades of a past -- time with the LAPD's narcotics squad before moving to Sommerton for retirement -- but the rest of the good guys are hopelessly bland. More than that, though: They're just so relentlessly dumb it's impossible root for them. The deputies are bumbling, the feds (led by Forest Whitaker) are myopic, and the townspeople are cartoons of cartoons. The film can't even muster the requisite suspension of disbelief for Cortez's magic car because it's impossible to see past the ineptitude of every single person on screen.

This is where the fear of commitment comes in. The Last Stand is resolutely afraid to do anything with any character, scene, or idea that would in any way feel fresh or interesting. It's Schwarzenegger's return to the big screen, but it's also a marked retreat into the kind of filler, mid-1980s action titles that marked his ascendancy. Those movies took advantage of his size to get a certain job done, but they were also necessary evils to let Schwarzenegger do better or more interesting roles, from the straight-ahead manhunt of Predator to the stellar Total Recall or the nice balance of action and charisma in Terminator 2. The Last Stand pales next to those not because Schwarzenegger is older, but because he's given less to do. He's boxed in here, held back from having fun or mouthing off or doing any real damage until the film's final act. And until then, we have to endure a staggering amount of bad acting, worse dialogue, and endless expanses of time with the dumbest lawmen to ever walk in front of a camera.

The film also looks sadly cheap. Kim relies a few too many times on chintzy CG for pivotal moments, like a sniper shot that takes out a farmer in jerky animation or the obvious green-screen look of the final showdown between Ray and Cortez on the U.S.-Mexico border. What's weird is that so often Kim seems to favor practical effects, like squibs to explosions, which pack a stronger punch. The result is that the film feels slapped together out of necessity, sewn from disparate pieces to make an ungainly whole.

I can already feel the film slipping from me. It's impossible to describe how weird this is. This doesn't happen with many films, or even with most of them. Good or bad, interesting or boring, offensive or bland: They almost all offer something to remember, or think about, or talk about. Gangster Squad was a genuine trainwreck, but it was the kind of wreck that gave itself naturally to discussion and examination. But The Last Stand is maddeningly vague, a sloppily directed and barely acted movie that doesn't even feel like it's happening as it happens, let alone hours or days later. It's a bad movie, a lifeless action film, and an utter disappointment for Schwarzenegger. It's actually the worst thing a Schwarzenegger movie can be, and a sad sign of what the man's become: harmless.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • ,

    It sounds like there's a gem of a good movie in here somewhere, just for having a car that does what it does, defying the laws of physics and motion and all that just because it can, and everyone takes it for granted that it can, and how do you stop a thing like that? A little like "Unstoppable," a B movie short on dialogue and long on action, as it should have been.

    Coincidentally, this sounds like a trainwreck.

  • malechai

    Meh. Still going to see this.

  • Horace

    Ebert gets it. Dan does not.

  • in_heaben

    TK didn't review this????

  • par1964

    Can someone tell me why ...... Why would anyone writing a script, knowing that Ah-node is playing the lead, name that character Ray Owens?? In what universe does a man with that name have an Austrian accent?? Is there a more Anglo name in the world than Ray Owens?? Why not give him a name that suits him, like Victor Stahlman (yes, I just made that up, but what the hell .... at least it sounds vaguely European).

    I mean, geez-us .....

  • Buck Forty

    Have you not watched Arnold's other movies? He always has an Anglo name. I presume it's an inside joke.

  • Uriah_Creep

    They’re just so relentlessly dumb it’s impossible root for them.

    Dan Carlson reviews are so well written that I feel like a special jewel when I find a mistake in one. Gotcha, Dan.

  • junierizzle

    While I agree with some of your points I liked the movie. It's exactly what you said but it works. Come on, it's a bad movie because they didn't use a spike strip? Yes the acting isn't great, it's cliched up the butt but they play it straight. And that's why it works. It isn't trying to be an 80' s action movie like the lame Expendables. It is an 80' s action type movie. The one liners don't feel forced and there is some really good action in it.

    I think you were thinking to hard on this one. It's a fun movie. It's a hell of a lot better than Gangster Squad.

  • Ghisent

    It isn't trying to be an 80' s action movie like the lame Expendables. It is an 80' s action type movie.

    I... wait... but... huh?

  • BlackRabbit

    If that's the amazing car, what's the big train-thing I saw in the trailer....I think?

  • sean

    I didn't understand why they are promoting the ZR1 so much. Production is about to end, if it hasn't already.

  • Idle Primate

    i haven't been able to help but be excited about this movie. that's a shame if its dull. that's pretty much the one thing it can't get away with

  • Ted Zancha

    Yeah, I'm calling it early:

    This review wins the award for the most scathing review of 2013.

  • par1964

    Not likely ...... I predict there will be a review more scathing than "It was boring ..."

  • Awhhh damn. I was really looking forward to this. I thought it might pop as a sleeper hit. But of course. It's January. What the fuck am I thinking...

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