MRR Movie Review: "The Last Stand"

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Back onscreen in his first leading role since starring in 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Arnold Schwarzenegger leads the cast of this 2013 action crime thriller set on the Mexican border. When a notorious drug kingpin escapes from the FBI, he and his gang, along with a hostage, race towards Mexico. Meanwhile, it's up to a newly-in-command Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) in the small U.S. border town of Sommerton Junction to ready his less experienced force as they prepare to make a last-ditch effort at intercepting the drug cartel before they cross the border.
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MRR Movie Review: "The Last Stand"

-- Rating: R (language, strong bloody violence throughout)
Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: January 18, 2013
Directed by: Jee-woon Kim
Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

While Arnold Schwarzenegger was busy governing California, his movie career suffered. He made very short cameos in fellow 1980s action hero Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" and its sequel but hadn't done much other than that. "The Last Stand" marks his return not only to the big screen but also to bona fide action star credibility. It's a fun, action-packed film with a loose plot and plenty of one-liners that will satisfy even the most ardent of Schwarzenegger fans.

He stars as Ray Owens, the sheriff of Sommerton Junction, a small desert town that is near the United States border with Mexico. He is leading a quiet life that is of his own design after years of stressful work with the Los Angeles Police Department. He seemingly has the life he worked so hard to build, until one day, a cartel madman by the name of Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) escapes from the custody of FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) while in Nevada. The whole escape was masterminded by Burrell (Peter Stormare), who gave Cortez a supercharged custom car to aid him in his drive to the Mexican border. Burrell and Cortez are in constant contact while he drives through the picturesque desert back home to Mexico to resume his cartel duties.

Despite the best efforts of Bannister, Cortez uses the car and his dedicated henchmen to blow through all the police blockades. There isn't much between Nevada and the border, except vast expanses of desert and Sommerton Junction. This leads a desperate Bannister to reach out to Owens to form a blockade to keep Cortez from crossing over the border. A reluctant Owens agrees because he wants to do the right thing, despite that he does not have the right amount of men or resources to put up a very good fight. That means he is going to have to rely on the quirky Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) to help him, as Dinkum has a small arsenal of weapons stockpiled. These two unlikely comrades begin a race against time to fortify the town before the arrival of Cortez and company, who are intent on killing anyone who stands in the way of their freedom.

Schwarzenegger returns for his first full-length appearance in a film in nearly a decade and doesn't seem rusty at all. He clearly remembers that part of his appeal in movies such as "The Terminator" is that he could deliver deadpan lines that were hilarious because of how he said them. Some of the written lines in "The Last Stand" are not funny on their own merit but elicit laughs because they are being said with a wry wit by Schwarzenegger. He knows when to be subtle and when to ham it up, such as in a particularly funny scene where his aging lawman is huffing and puffing during a fight. Another scene where he has to put on glasses because he can't read without them is a bit that would have never landed in a Schwarzenegger movie during his 1980s action heyday.

Schwarzenegger is absolutely the star of the film, but that doesn't mean that others didn't have a big hand in carrying it. Whitaker is excellent as the FBI agent, who is so obsessed with recapturing his guy that he would ask the sheriff of a small town to try and stop a cartel kingpin and his men. Knoxville nearly steals the show as Dinkum, who is widely considered to be the town loon. His wide-eyed and blustering take on the character is played for laughs, though there are enough small nuances in the performance so that it never goes over the top. Stormare has the physical look and vocal timber of a sociopath and puts them to good use here as the villain who is guiding Cortez straight into Sheriff Owens' path.

Director Jee-woon Kim is a relative unknown to stateside movie audiences, unless they have seen his previous independent films or his Korean language movies. Asian action films, with their explosive action and framing, have long inspired many American movie directors, and Kim shows the reason for this in "The Last Stand," in which he brings a distinctly Asian sensibility to the action, while still making sure that the film is as much about the action and violence as it is about Schwarzenegger's star power. He lets the star shine and charm the audience without letting the supporting cast or action sequences suffer, which is not an easy balance to achieve. He clearly had a vision for what the film should look like while shooting, turning it into a great, entertaining movie that brings Schwarzenegger back onto the Hollywood map as if he had never left in the first place.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars