It’s been a decade since Ah-nold headlined his last movie, 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. And in the opening scenes of his newest action blitzkrieg The Last Stand, you can see every one of those years etched along the sides of his face like alien dreads framing the face of the Predator.
Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, the seen-it-all sheriff of Deadwood Gulch Sommerton Junction, a sleepy Arizona border town so remote from any sort of civilization that the football team has to hop aboard a five-hour bus trip just to play the next team over. Owens, who I will henceforth call Ah-nold, spent many years working in the LAPD before a botched sting ended up leaving many of his fellow officers dead or significantly wounded. Since then, the thrill of the hunt just hasn’t tasted quite as sweet as it used to, hence his withdrawal to what has long been a quiet near-retirement.
With most of the town gone along with the football team, Ah-nold gets settled in for a weekend off, which for his 65-year-old self undoubtedly means a weekend spent clean-and-jerking a few thousand pounds with those free weights on his front porch.
As it turns out, though, drug cartel kingpin Gabriel Cortez is in the middle of an ornate escape from FBI custody over in Las Vegas that same weekend, and rather than take the easy route across the Mexican border, his militia are at work building a makeshift bridge over the narrow canyon that sits just south of Sommerton Junction. As that raspy trailer voice would likely intone: “Only one man … stands between a ruthless criminal … and JUSTICE!”
Well, actually there are a few others that hope to stand in the way, including the departments three other deputies, played by Friday Night Lights‘ Zach Gilford, Kyle XY‘s Jaimie Alexander and How to Make It in America‘s Luis Guzmán in varying shades of green. There’s also the town’s ne’er-do-well ex-Marine Frank Martinez (Rodrigo Santoro), who spends his weekends in a jail cell for drunk and disorderly conduct, and Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), the town gun, er, enthusiast who has enough an artillery in his warehouse “museum” to make you wonder why the FBI isn’t paying more attention to him.
Of course, they have their hands full after Cortez steals a retrofitted Chevy Corvette C6 ZR1 capable of topping 200 mph and makes a spritely flight toward Mexico. Again, I defer to the imaginary trailer V.O. guy in my head: “Does this motley crew … have what it takes … to make The Last Stand?” The material is straight up Ah-nold gun porn corn, with a decided “conceal and carry” bent; at one point during the film’s final showdown, a bad guy gets iced by a little old lady running the town’s antique shop.
But somewhere along the way, the powers that be decided to hand the reigns over to Korean auteur Jee-Woon Kim, a director far better known for his intensely hyper-violent horror and crime films A Tale of Two Sisters and I Saw the Devil, as well as the bonkers spaghetti western tribute The Good, The Bad and The Weird. Kim embeds himself deeply into ethically wrathful persona of Ah-nold, but opts to keep the violence both pervasive and cartoonish, rather than implied and matter-of-fact as it largely has been ever since T-800 got all soft and cuddly in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
In fact, the somewhat tongue-in-cheek blend of foursquare hero worship, sometimes showstopping gore and rural hijinx (e.g. Knoxville’s bovine-carcass target practice) is apparently so potentially alienating to American action fiends that the screening I attended featured a pre-film disclaimer from Ah-nold and Guzmán reiterating their gratefulness for law enforcement officers, as though the extended climactic mano-a-mano brawl didn’t make the ultimate deification of brawny authoritarianism perfectly clear. The Last Stand is “fun,” but wears those ironic quotation marks a little too proudly.