(by Dustin Putman
To call the ho-hum and inconsequential "The Last Stand" a B-movie is to give it too much credit; only on rare occasions does it deserve even a C. The first leading-man role for Arnold Schwarzenegger in a decade (his last, not counting his virtual cameos in 2010's "The Expendables" and 2012's "The Expendables 2," was 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines"), the film has gunfire and exploding body parts to spare, but wastes the former mayor of California in a one-note stock part that doesn't trust his age (he's 65) or his abilities and gives him little to do until the relatively crowd-pleasing finale. Before this mano-a-mano, bridge-set fight to the death overlooking a canyon, Schwarzenegger mostly makes "I'm-getting-too-old-for-this" faces and utters a single bull's-eye one-liner: when drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) exclaims, "You fucked up my car!" Schwarzenegger replies, "You fucked up my day off!" The rest is ultra-violent drivel, filled to the brim with supporting archetypes and caricatures not worth caring about and a plot that values guns more than human life. With no higher aspirations or thematic intentions, let alone deeper historic significance (think 2012's "Django Unchained"), the results are more queasy than a good time. Article continues below
When a prison transfer in Las Vegas leads to the narrow escape of drug cartel leader Gabriel Cortez, he and his cronies make a dash for the Mexican border. Between them and freedom sits the quaint desert town of Sommerton Junction, Arizona, where Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) isn't about to let them escape without a fight. Inducting his police squad—among them, novice upstart Jerry Bailey (Zach Gilford), goof-off Mike Figueroa (Luis Guzman), and boy-troubled Sarah Torrance (Jaimie Alexander)—and just about any game townspeople willing to take part, Sheriff Owen sets up a blockade and preps his rifles. No one in cahoots with Cortez will be making it out alive.
"The Last Stand" is the English-language directorial debut of talented Korean filmmaker Jee-woon Kim (2011's "I Saw the Devil"), and while his penchant for gore has stayed intact, the brains to go along with it have been obliterated beyond recognition. The opening scene suggestively sets the stage for a better movie to come—the nighttime solitude of a police officer nine miles outside of Vegas finds the radio strains of Cowboy Junkies' "Blue Moon" cover interrupted by an unidentified object zooming past at almost 200 mph—but it's only a mirage. Once the setting switches to Sommerton Junction, the viewer is forced to wade through a series of ham-fisted side stories not worth the trouble of considering them as screenwriter Andrew Knauer bides his time for the would-be explosive second half to arrive.
When Cortez and his goons get there, the movie turns into a ceaseless shoot-'em-up, one that's at least good for diverting attention, even if said attention relies upon graphic bodily harm to keep one occupied. People get their brains blown out. One gets his ear shot off. An elderly lady who doesn't take kindly to trespassers thinks nothing of blowing away a house intruder. One bad guy is shot with a flare gun and explodes into a shower of falling limbs. And then there's Johnny Knoxville (2012's "Fun Size"), clad in bathrobe, goggles and a fur-lined trooper hat as kooky wannabe-deputy Lewis Dinkum. Knoxville is unctuous bordering on insufferable, and that's being kind. Although his character gets his professional wish before it's all over, he can't get shot fast enough.
Under more hopeful circumstances, "The Last Stand" would be notable for what a fine ensemble has been put together. Under these actual circumstances, the actors are only notable for how much they're forced to slum it. The less said about Forest Whitaker (2010's "Repo Men") as Federal Agent John Bannister, asked to do little more than walk with purpose down corridors, the better. If director Jee-woon Kim gets away with fleeting flecks of style and the aforementioned one memorable climactic face-off between Owens and Cortez sends things out on a less heinous note than the rest of the feature probably deserves, these are exceptions in a landscape of disappointments. As for Arnold Schwarzenegger, he may be aging quickly, but there's still some potential left for him if he can find better material that knows how to use him to his self-deprecating strengths. The low-rent "The Last Stand" is a first step in the wrong direction.