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Movie Review: “The Last Stand”

By Van Roberts

At age 65, most men are content to retire and rest on their laurels. Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t one to sit on his assets in his old age. Since he can’t run for the Oval Office, Arnold is struggling to revive his career after spending about a decade off-screen. Arnold’s pal Sylvester Stallone, who is enjoying a modest career revival himself, cast the Austrian bodybuilder in his two “Expendables” movies, and Arnold is scheduled to team up with the Italian stallion again in the forthcoming actioneer “The Tomb.” These titles don’t augur well for his comeback, but Arnold isn’t going quietly into the night. He has lined up several projects, including a new “Terminator” sequel, a “Twins” follow-up appropriately entitled “Triplets,” and a third sequel “The Legend of Conan.” Meantime, Arnold is “back” as a small-town sheriff in Korean director Kim Jee-Woon’s American cinematic debut “The Last Stand” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) where he clashes with coldblooded, trigger-happy villains who are bridging the way for the head honcho of a Mexican drug cartel to cross the border back into Mexico. Basically, “The Last Stand” qualifies as a predictable but entertaining B-movie toplining Arnold, without Sylvester Stallone lurking in the background. Johnny Knoxville of “Jackass” fame co-stars, along with Forrest Whitaker, Harry Dean Stanton, and Jamie Alexander. If they served draft beer and pizza at movie theaters, “The Last Stand” would probably rake in a pile of dough. Nothing about this blood-splattered, R-rated, carnage will surprise anybody who enjoys this kind of mindless mayhem.

FBI Special Agent John Bannister (Forrest Whitaker of “Street Kings”) is in charge of transporting convicted Mexican narcotics kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega of “Che Guevara”) to a Federal prison. Bannister’s heavily armed convoy doesn’t even make it out of Las Vegas before Cortez’s criminal organization springs him, takes a female FBI agent, Sarah Torrance (Jamie Alexander of “Thor”), hostage, and furnishes him with a souped-up Corvette that can outrun a helicopter. Nothing Bannister does to alert the authorities along Cortez’s escape route halts the drug lord. Cortez careens along the highway like a maniac and threatens to kill Torrance who is riding alongside him. Truckloads of armed mercenaries blast through the road blocks and riddle everybody in sight. Bannister scrambles every resource he can summon to stop Cortez at the border after they lose track of him. Eventually, Bannister warns the sheriff of the tiny town of Sommerton Junction, Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger), to stay out of the Cortez’s way. A former LAPD narcotics agent w ho quit the force after he survived a deadly massacre, Owens took a job as top cop in his sleepy little border town. He has three officers under him who have never seen the kind of violence he has witnessed. When Cortez’s henchman, Burrell (Peter Stormare of “Fargo”), starts blasting away at them after they discover the make-shift bridge he has erected across a gorge, Owens recruits a former Iraq veteran Frank Martinez (Rodrigo Santoro of “300”), locked up in one of his own jail cells, and a nitwit arms dealer, Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville of “Walking Tall”) to beef up his force.

Arnold Schwarzenegger looks nothing like he did in his prime. Haggard as Clint Eastwood was in “Gran Torino,” Schwarzenegger does everything he can to make world weary Ray Owens appear vulnerable. He takes an awful beating at the hands of the considerably younger Cortez during a tenacious stand-off scene at the border. Of course, Arnold comes out on top but not without a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Nevertheless, despite a shortage of snappy one-liners, he is still Arnold. As big, dumb, action thrillers go, “The Last Stand” boasts stalwart villains, exploding body parts, and enough gunfire to keep you watching it. Korean helmer Kim Jee-Woon doesn’t have a lot to work with in “Ghost Team One” scenarist Andrew Knauer’s hackneyed screenplay. If you have seen “The Good, the Bad and Weird,” you know Jee-Woon is a lively action director who deserves better. Undoubtedly, the prospect of directing Arnold and staging some hellacious high-octane action scenes attracted him to this tame actioneer. Since he has nothing but clichés to juggle, Jee-Woon substitutes supercharged velocity for surprises, and “The Last Stand” never runs out of momentum. Were it not for Schwarzenegger’s iconic presence, this 107-minute melodrama would be a straight-to-video saga with little to distinguish it. The plot has more holes than some of the patrol cars that the villains riddle with their fully automatic firearms. The Corvette that our villain steals for his joyride gets the kind of gas mileage that nobody in the real world could ever get. Mind you, “The Last Stand” isn’t as good as lesser Arnold epics such as “Eraser,” “End of Days,” and “Raw Deal,” but it is fun to see Schwarzenegger back on the big screen where he belongs.

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