Terminator, governator, what will we call this new chapter in the life of one of the best action heroes of my generation? What we can be sure of is that Schwarzenegger arrives in another decade coming off much better than he did, as an actor anyway, in the previous one. “The Expendables 2” was a blast and “The Last Stand” is the best starring vehicle he’s had since 1996’s “Eraser.”
This is a different Schwarzenegger than were used to. In fact I was surprised when more than a half hour into the movie and he still hadn’t killed or fought anyone yet. It’s a valid progression, a way to set up Sheriff Ray Owens as a man who’s seen the worst and now just prefers the quiet life. A big deal for him is an illegally-parked car.
That is until the FBI botches the transfer of a cartel boss (Eduardo Noriega) in a bold escape that has him jumping into the driver’s seat of a sleek and ultra-fast corvette and hoping to head straight through Ray’s town on his way to Mexico. He’s got a fully equipped team of henchmen at his disposal and oh, he’s also got a daredevil behind the wheel who manages to consistently evade capture with impressive driving maneuvers. It falls to Ray and his team of rookie deputies to stop him.
Arnold may be slower and need glasses to examine a dead body now but it’s a blast to finally see him pick up a shot gun and save his team, pinned down in a fire fight by an additional cartel team, led by character actor Peter Stormare, who have set up in the town waiting for their boss’s arrival. It’s also great to see him dress down the FBI agent in charge (Forest Whitaker).
There are a number of action set-pieces, all of which are brilliantly conceived by Korean import director Jee-Woon Kim, who made Korean Spaghetti Western comedy “The Good, the Bad, and the Weird”, a movie I know I’ve heard of but haven’t seen and feel like I definitely should. The work done on several car chases, including one through corn fields, shows ingenuity as well as suspense, there is a fist fight at the end which is brutally good, and the best set piece of the bunch is an all-out shoot-out with big guns, blood squibs, people getting blown up and other mayhem. And if the crowd’s reaction was any indication, movie gun violence is alive and well.
Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville, playing one of Ray’s deputies and the town’s crazed gun-museum owner, handle the comic-relief roles. Whitaker feels a bit wasted here. But it’s always wonderfully weird to watch Peter Stormare, especially when he plays a villain. There is also a Harry Dean Stanton sighting.
But everyone seems to know who the head honcho is. It’s fantastic to see the big guy back, as he always promised he would be.