Korean director Jee-woon Kim’s last couple of films, The Good The Bad And The Weird and I Saw The Devil, have been two of my favourite and most enjoyable over the past few years. It is then, with great excitement and expectation, that I went to see his new film and American movie debut The Last Stand. Further excitement and expectation can be heaped upon The Last Stand as it marks the official Hollywood comeback of possibly the most famous and iconic movie star ever, Arnold Schwarzenegger. And I love me some Arnie. Schwarzenegger plays an aging Sheriff of a small town on the Mexican border. When drug baron Gabriel Cortez escapes from a maximum security prison and heads for the border Arnie and his misfit gang of townsfolk are the only ones who stand in his way. Not a particularly original, thrilling or interesting plot I think you’ll agree and in anyone else’s hands this could have been a straight to DVD action B-Movie with Steven Segal. However in the hands of a master director like Jee-woon Kim and starring the biggest action star of all time the film is elevated and given a touch of gravitas. Don’t get me wrong, The Last Stand is not a masterpiece by anyone’s standards, and on the whole it’s a pretty bad film but Woon adds just enough humour, wit and charm to turn it into a pretty fun and enjoyable (if not slightly forgettable) popcorn flick.
Arnie was never a good nor convincing actor and his time away from the screen has not been kind. He returns looking dishevelled and uncomfortable but with just enough of an air of Clint Eastwood about him to pull it off. His acting skills however, are all but forgotten. It seems like he’s starting again from scratch; awkward delivery and the thick Austrian accent almost impenetrable at times. What Arnie can do however is exude charm and charisma with just a look and at certain points we are reminded of just why the man is a Hollywood icon. It’s not often that the star of the picture is out-acted by someone like Johnny Knoxville; here playing the small town eccentric idiot. That’s not to say that this is a great performance by Knoxville but at least his lines are slightly easier to understand.
To be fair he plays the rather stock and thinly written character well and is one of the more likable members of the ensemble. Forest Whitaker turns up playing the generic angry head FBI agent and completely forgets to bring any of the talent or effort that won him an Oscar. Eduardo Noriega Is similarly generic, stock and thickly accented as villain Cortez. Instead his character hides behind a souped up Corvette that boasts 1000 horsepower and is by far the coolest and most exciting thing on screen. Now, I’m not a car person by any means, I know literally nothing and I can’t even drive but the Corvette in this film is a force to be reckoned with and the best thing about the movie. At one point Whitaker’s character describes it as a Batmobile and that’s almost exactly what it is. The car is a character within itself and it is this monster vehicle that is the real threat and the real villain of the piece.
Jee-woon Kim (judging by this film anyway) may not necessarily know how to direct his actors but he directs action sequences and set pieces wonderfully. The cinematography, camera work and camera angles used are superb. The Last Stand doesn’t necessarily stand up against Woon’s other films and one would have hoped that he would have chosen a slightly better script for his American film debut as this one does him no justice whatsoever. One would also have hoped the same for Arnie’s big comeback. You can see why it may have appealed to him though; for once playing the underdog and now, fittingly for a man in his sixties, playing the old dog. While it’s not the roaring comeback that Schwarzenegger fans may have been hoping for, The Last Stand is a fun ride and a gentle reminder that he’s back.