views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Last Stand (15)
Cineworld, O2
22nd January 2013


Okay, I admit it. I underestimated the Governator. The Terminator franchise never blew me away - those films all blur into one - and his pure comedy offerings like Kindergarten Cop and Junior are what I refer to as classic ITV2 movies. I won't elaborate, you all know what I'm talking about. But actually, in The Last Stand, Arnold Schwarzenegger proves he can still make a great action film - and comeback.

With some sudden violence and a few laughs here and there, opening out in rural America, initially it seems like we've got another Seven Psychopaths on our hands. Not bad, not brilliant. However, after being introduced to Schwarzenegger's character of small town sheriff, Ray, South Korean director Jee-woon Kim, in his English film debut, wrong-foots us. He contrasts sleepy Sommerton life with LA drug crime, with the city action every bit as slick and fast paced as last year's smash Britflick The Sweeney, as Ray tries to stop a kingpin escaping to Mexico.

While the film begins fairly lightly, with Arnie hamming it up, it takes a darker turn in LA, before the two worlds meet and marry well. And oddly, rather than the tone and pacing feeling uneven, it works very well. We find ourselves wanting more of the lead. We warm to Ray, he's a likeable hero with a believable commitment to enforcing the law with the help of his hapless colleagues, Jerry (Zach Gilford), Sarah (Jaimie Alexander) and Figgy (Luis Guzman).

There are some great throwaway jokes - particularly towards the end - and do look out for Lois Geary playing Mrs Salazar. She helps set up a scene which resulted in a spontaneous round of applause when I saw the film.

As you would expect, some of the violence is ridiculous although never as bad as the Ross Noble-fronted horror/comedy Stitches. It's a little OTT but some is still just realistic enough to make those with a delicate constitution wish they were sat at home watching Twins again. This is an action film, you either like lots of guns (and the consequences) or you don't. Decide before you pay for a ticket.

Guzman, together with Johnny Knoxville (as Lewis Dinkum) provide pure comic support. Alexander and Sonny Landham as Sarah's ex Henry, add the ubiquitous love story subplot. Forest Whitaker puts in a solid performance as Ray's FBI counterpart, John. And Gabriel Cortez and Chris Browning competently act the parts of evil third generation drug cartel boss and his chief henchman. It's formulaic, with none of the supporting cast really standing out, but in the end, this doesn't matter. The Last Stand is a film with one star in it. No one else needs to really shine, just mildly twinkle in background.

Yes, The Last Stand has the cheesy one liners and predictable plot bunnies that you expect - demand, even - from a film of this genre. But Schwarzenegger is smart, he doesn't try to be someone he's not, he embraces his role and he pokes fun at himself with a great self-awareness. He plays the action hero that his audience want him to be - he knows better than to alienate his loyal fan base, built up over several decades. Schwarzenegger always plays a caricature of himself, not because he's a wooden actor, but because he knows his audience find that entertaining. Watching him act really is an education in how he did so well in politics.

Unlike Taken 2, which managed to accidentally be an action film and a comedy at the same time, The Last Stand knowingly mixes these styles and is a perfect platform to get Schwarzenegger back on the big screen and have him stay there as long as he wants this time round. It's a skill Jee-Woon Kim used previously to tremendous effect in his seminal The Good, The Bad And The Weird, and it pays dividends here also. Anyone looking for more of the same (and dare I say, better) could do worse than checking out his back catalogue.

If the rumours about a fifth Terminator flick are true, as unappealing as it sounds, on the strength of Schwarzenegger's performance in The Last Stand, I'm prepared to keep an open mind. He's definitely back. Just like he promised.

The Last Stand was released in the UK on 25th January 2013.

Nearest tube station: North Greenwich for the O2 (Jubilee)

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