The Last Stand might quite not be the kick in the face that fans of South Korean director Kim Jee-woon may have feared, but it is an oddity. Part straight-faced drama, part comedic parody, part Call-of-Duty-style shoot ‘em up, and part advert for Chrysler and Chevrolet, it consists of a crowded list of characters and morphs from cop film to Western within its three act structure (though the latter is handled proficiently by a man regarded as a master practitioner of genre).
And all this is without mentioning the one reason why this film has made headlines in the West: for the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger (back on screen in a leading role for the first time in ten years).
Make no mistake; this is a different Schwarzenegger in front of us in 2013. At 65 years he looks his age, a little bewildered and battle-worn. In The Last Stand this latest incarnation, playing US sheriff Ray Owens, takes on drug cartel Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), who has escaped from FBI agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) and seeks security behind the Mexican border. When Cortez has to travel through Owens’ town of Sommerton to reach his destination, Owens recruits his young cadets and some local folk to halt his advances and fend off his henchmen (including Peter Stormare’s Burrell).
In fairness, Schwarzenegger tries his best to please and may do enough to satisfy any lingering fans, delivering dud lines with the same old wooden expression – minus the politics and the 1980’s homoerotic machismo. For those familiar with Jee-woon’s previous work, however, it may still be bemusing how the director of a film with as much depth as A Bittersweet Life has found himself tackling the “Arnie genre” for his first English language production. Unfortunately, if this is all that Western audiences come to know of him, he’ll never get the recognition he deserves.
At its best, The Last Stand is loud, unashamed and mindless. There’s fun to be had in its action scenes because they are handled with bravado, some evoking traces of the ultra-violence Jee-woon is famed for. If it is open to any comparison to Jee-woon’s back catalogue, however, it would be to The Good, The Bad, The Weird (ironically, the three adjectives that best describe this venture), most prominently through Johnny Knoxville’s eccentric Lewis Dinkum, though it’d be delusional to think this gets close to the zany heights of that film.
Undoubtedly, many of the problems lie with Andrew Knauer’s formulaic and sometimes gringe-inducing script, which lacks any inventive characterisation. Knauer simply doesn’t do enough, missing an opportunity to fully exasperate the parody and the Schwarzenegger figure. If the film were a fully-fledged comedy, it could’ve had the same cult-hit longevity as Commando. Instead, The Last Stand marks just another stage in the life of transnational cinema, in the collaboration between two of East and West’s cinematic talisman.
Whisper it quietly, but you might find some enjoyment in its folly, even if it leaves you wanting to watch I Saw the Devil to remind you of what Jee-woon is truly capable of.