“The Last Stand” is American. Sure, its director is the South Korean Jee-woon Kim, and its hero the Austrian, Arnold Schwarzenegger — but you’d be challenged to find a movie more red, white and blue (at least until “A Good Day to Die Hard” is released). “The Last Stand” possesses all the necessary elements: ridiculously fast cars (a Corvette, of course — this ain’t “Skyfall”), liberal interpretations of 2nd-Amendment rights, high-cholesterol diners and that weirdly stirring spirit of defending what’s yours.

The Last Stand

B
Lionsgate
Rave and Quality 16


“The Last Stand” is American, whether we like it or not.

The plot, while seemingly contrived, is actually original and inherently exciting: An escaped drug cartel leader is racing toward the U.S.-Mexican border from Arizona, with the intent of escaping the FBI, in a hyper-fast car (and the sense of speed is palpable). The final obstacle in his path is Schwarzenegger and a band of inept-ish deputies. Director Jee-woon Kim (“The Good, the Bad, the Weird”) paces the story well, and there’s a sense of franticness even if the film occasionally drags toward the ultimate showdown.

Schwarzenegger (“The Expendables 2”), as Ray Owens (which is as ridiculous a name one could ever give someone who looks and sounds like Schwarzenegger), is a sort of patriarch in the film. The town he protects treats him as such, and his deputies confide in him and admit intimate fears. Schwarzenegger is no longer just a hero; he’s a father. This gives legitimacy toward his actions, and while his motivations warp later in the film toward slightly more mundane “revenge” and “justice” archetypes, he still radiates an oddly comforting protective aura.

The rest of the cast is somewhat overloaded (there seem to be about 15 supplementary characters), but never stifling. Each personality, from Forest Whitaker’s (“The Last King of Scotland”) stressed-out FBI agent to Jaimie Alexander’s (“Thor”) hardy deputy, is predictable but still possesses certain tidbits that elicit some emotional connection. In a perfect world, action films would exchange their pacing and excitement for fulfilling characters, but “The Last Stand” does a decent job nevertheless.

As for the action, it follows the ubiquitous action-comedy formula seen in “The Expendables” or “The Avengers.” Sadly, “The Last Stand” doesn’t really ever live up to those standards. Yeah, it’s fun to see ol’ man Schwarzenegger creakily wrestle, poking fun at, while also reviving, old-school action standards, but the “joke” is getting a bit … antiquated. Still though, “The Last Stand” is pun-filled in all the right ways, and it’s hard not to laugh. Also, some scenes have a little spark of genius hidden within (a slow-chase in a corn field, a magnetic escape from the police), and Jee-woon smoothly and confidently works his way through the flurry of bullets and cars.

So, “The Last Stand” is an effectively made, overblown “American” movie. What’s there to talk about? Normally nothing, but if you follow Piers Morgan on Twitter or watch the news ever, you’re aware of a gun-control debate in this country. In the movie, a grandma pulls out a shotgun and shoots a bad guy in the back; Schwarzenegger, looking for firepower, must go to a civilian to acquire stronger weapons. These are things that seem plausible, and that also in some sense excite and repel.

The plot excites because these are wholly American sequences, and there is something powerful about defending your home, yourself. On the other hand, it repels because of the destruction and death weapons like these create — even Schwarzenegger says in the film he’s seen enough death and bloodshed to last him a lifetime. Is “The Last Stand” truly adding something to the gun-control debate? Probably not. But it still is difficult not to question our reactions to the content.

This is self-aware filmmaking, and the title of “The Last Stand” tells plenty about the film. It’s an ironic return for Schwarzenegger, an old comeback guised as a final hurrah. It’s a literal description of the central conflict in the film; it could be the end of “Expendable”-type filmmaking (though hopefully the joke still has some kick to it). But really, “The Last Stand” isn’t any sort of ultimate destination. Instead, it’s probably just another bump on the road.

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