It has been ten years since Arnold Schwarzenegger took on a lead role in a film. His stint as The Governator of California from 2003 to 2011 didn’t leave room for as much as a cameo, but appearances in The Expendables films have eased him back into film work. The Last Stand sees Schwarzenegger return to his muscular heroics, defending the small American town of Somerton Junction on the Mexican boarder from a petrol-head drug lord called Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega).
While The Last Stand will not be 65-year-old Schwarzenegger’s last film, it plays with a cheeky humour that Arnie fans and cynics alike will look upon with pleasure. His character Ray Owens, once a LAPD narcotics cop, has settled down to country living for a bit of peace and quiet, only to be jolted out of it by Cortez. The narrative construction is familiar, yet Schwarzenegger’s ten-year hiatus from acting adds freshness to the material; the way he looks and carries himself seems “old” (as he amusingly describes himself.)
Arnie’s strengths are at the fore here, yet the film is weakened by a plot line involving the FBI hunt for Cortez. Having lost the drug lord in Las Vegas the FBI, headed by the rather angry Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), pursue him as he approaches Somerton Junction in his custom built Corvette. The FBI are intended to represent the modern, sleek operation in contrast to Arnie’s small town policing, yet their dull scenes serve to take potentially entertaining screen time away from Arnie.
However, South Korean director Jee-woon Kim stages the film’s action (for that is the true purpose of the film) with an entertaining eye for American genre traits (nods to Dirty Harry and American Westerns) and a flare for violence. The action has impact, with a satisfying Peckinpah-esque punch. The film’s defining setpiece where Owens and Cortez race muscle cars through a cornfield is a particularly inspired collision between the modern and the rural. Arnie’s acquisition of various old fashioned firearms (including a WWII era chain gun, mounted in a school bus), also leads to memorable shootouts.
The Last Stand is far from the greatest Schwarzenegger movie, but it is a satisfying, satirical and ultimately consistent return following his ten years in politics. It also reminds us of Arnie’s unique ability to turn simple, even banal dialogue into gold. When he declares “I’m the sheriff!” with utmost conviction, we know we’re back in the hands of a true Hollywood action hero.