Friday, January 18, 2013


Much as I would like to avoid any weary reference to his famous Terminator catchphrase: he’s back. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that is. After a ten-year hiatus from starring roles so that he could do some temporary state government job, Schwarzenegger has returned with The Last Stand, a simplistic, bloody action picture which is, like Arnie himself, very much of the old school.

I’m a fan; I’ve always liked him. I don’t know what it says about me, but I’ve always sheepishly enjoyed the childish shoot-‘em-up fantasies of the middlebrow Republican manly men, starting with John Wayne and continuing through Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis. I even have a (slight) soft spot for Chuck Norris.

But Schwarzenegger is a particular favorite. There’s a sweetness that sneaks past his stony, stilted delivery and his action-figure physique and gives him a droll charm, even when he’s playing a killer robot (that, I think, is why the first Terminator, in which he’s a menace, is so much sharper than the sentimental sequels, in which he’s the hero).

The physique is looking more human now that he’s in his mid-‘60s, but he still appears fit in The Last Stand, and his face is agreeably weathered. He seems a little rusty in the acting department, though. Never exactly Olivier, he had nonetheless gradually developed a little timing and panache, and had learned to use his accent to comic advantage. Now he’s back to picking his way through his lines word by laborious word.

Not that the lines he’s given in this movie offer him much help. The dialogue in The Last Stand, credited to Andrew Knauer, is of deadening banality. The plot is equally basic: an odious young drug lord (Eduardo Noriega) escapes from federal custody in Vegas and makes a dash for Mexico in a supercar. The little Arizona border town of which Arnie is the sheriff is the last barrier to this creep and freedom, so he and his ragtag deputies prepare to block his way.

This simplicity wouldn’t be a fault, could indeed be a strength, if the dialogue and characterizations weren’t so dreary. The best performance is by the ever-reliable Forest Whitaker as the earnest head G-Man. Luis Guzman is entertaining as Arnie’s deputy sidekick. Peter Stormare, making some strange attempt at a southern accent, is cartoonish as the leader of the bad guy’s advance team of goons, and so is Johnny Knoxville as a local gun nut. The great Harry Dean Stanton turns up, and it’s nice to see him, but it’s only a bit. Everyone else in the movie, from the pretty deputy (Jaimie Alexander) to her troubled old flame (Rodrigo Santoro) to the fresh-faced young kid (Zach Gilford), is straight out of Walker, Texas Ranger.

None of this matters, however—on its own silly, fairy-tale terms, The Last Stand works perfectly well. The director, the South Korean Jee-woon Kim (of the notorious revenge thriller I Saw the Devil) manages the preposterous chases and gunfights expertly, and cinematographer Kim Ji-Yong makes both the faces and the desert landscapes beautiful.

Poor Arnie has, of course, chosen a singularly uncomfortable moment to release an orgy of firearms porn—the gun nut’s stash, which is lovingly mooned over, saves the day for the sheriff. But the intolerable real-life horror of recent weeks didn’t seem to spoil the picture—the screening audience with whom I saw it clapped and cheered as Arnie and pals massacred the heavies.

I enjoyed myself, too. Whether this sort of bang-you’re-dead absurdity is culturally pernicious or harmless fun seems like an important question right now, and my answer, I’m afraid, is: I don’t know. But harmless or not, fun it is.


  1. scene: Grannie pulls out a sawed-off from under her shawl and blows away the mugger... audience laughs and cheers. The idea of the little guy going armed against a hostile world runs very deep in the American subconscience. Not Protection from what? I don't know...everything? I think their are two things that all born Americans (of every political stripe)share: A fundamental distrust of authority and the belief that we can ultimately only rely on ourselves.

  2. Well said--the question is, do movies like this give us a misguided and exaggerated trust in guns?

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