No one was expecting former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen to be a collaboration with Whit Stillman or Lars Von Trier. But even by the big, loud standards of a big, loud Schwarzenegger movie, “The Last Stand” feels like a succession of pitches that never amount to a script.
One minute, it’s a high-speed chase movie, lovingly showing off the Corvette 01, and then it’s a heavily-armed showdown with a bunch of faceless goons. Sometimes the movie avoids credulity and operates with tongue firmly in cheek, but then we’re supposed to actually care when one minor character dies and another one gets a shot at redemption.
Under the direction of acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Jee-woon Kim (“I Saw the Devil,” “The Good, the Bad, the Weird”), this could have been great, B-movie trash. Instead, “The Last Stand” is merely a mess.
Schwarznegger stars as Ray Owens, a former L.A. narcotics cop who left the big city long ago to settle in as sheriff of Summerton Junction, a tiny town on the Arizona/Mexico border. With the local high school football team off at an away game, Ray looks forward to a quiet weekend.
Fat chance: Drug lord Gabriel Cortes (Eduardo Noriega, “Open Your Eyes”) gets sprung from U.S. custody in an elaborate escape in Las Vegas, taking off in a Corvette with kidnapped federal agent Ellen Richards (Genesis Rodriguez) at his side. As FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) tries and fails to capture or even tail the car, a group of suspicious characters (made all the more suspicious because their leader is played by Peter Stormare) turn up in Summerton and kill a farmer (Harry Dean Stanton, the new king of the random cameo).
By the time Ray and his motley bunch of deputies (including Zach Gifford and Luís Guzman) figure out what’s going on, it’s clear that Summerton Junction’s police force are the only thing standing between Cortes and the border. Strapped for manpower, Ray is forced to deputize local gun nut Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) and war-veteran-turned-town-drunk Frank (Rodrigo Santoro).
With this strong crew of character actors (which also includes Richard Dillard as the local diner owner), “The Last Stand” seems like it’s going to offer some laughs and a straightforward succession of action set pieces.
(The car stuff is so exciting, you’ll wish there was more of it, no matter how shameless a product placement it might be.)
But the movie’s so tonally all over the place --and the many, many gun battles are staged with such little aplomb or excitement -- that the movie more often than not feels like it’s just going through the motions.
The same can be said for Schwarzenegger, who only rarely feels invested in the goings-on. Playing for neither laughs nor gravitas, he instead finds a thoroughly dull middle ground and inhabits it for nearly the entire film. Only in his climactic mano-a-mano showdown with Noriega do we get a glimpse of the action hero of yore, but by that point we’ve had to slog through a very perfunctory adventure.
Arnold Schwarzenegger may still have new and interesting tricks up his sleeve as he commences the twilight phase of his screen career, but there’s little on display in “The Last Stand” that indicates he’s all that thrilled to be back on the set.