The fact that “The Last Stand” suffered from a weak opening weekend goes to show that America is a lost cause.
The golden age of action is thirty years behind us, and so too, it seems, are our collective testicles. Yeah there have been some decent action movies in the intervening years, Terminator 2, Starship Troopers, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, Taken, Crank, Ip Man, and of course, The Expendables, but there was nothing like the 1980s, when no less than a dozen A-list action stars churned out as many bulletfests every year. If you are any anything like me and you miss those moments (even if you weren’t born yet during them), I have good news: The Last Stand is exactly what you are looking for.
Arnold himself takes some time off from knocking up ugly housekeepers to rake up his first leading role in a decade as the sheriff of a backwater browntown along the Arizona/Mexico border, a town that just so happens to be the planned border crossing point of a notorious (and strangely pretty) cartel kingpin. And well, that’s about all the plot there is to be had in this movie. But trust me, it’s a good thing, the less plot points you have, the more bullet holes you can justify. And bullet holes get put in a whole lot of things in the ensuing hour and a half, the first being some old asshole’s head.
Striking the perfect balance between old-school action and atrocious one-liners is South Korean director Kim Ji-woon. Apparently everyone in Korea is named Kim. If you haven’t the foggiest who Kim Ji-woon is, he directed the Korean-Western “The Good, The Bad, and The Weird,” a movie I simply cannot recommend enough. Ji-woon puts the gook jabber on the sidelines this time around in his first American film, and in terms of raw, man-pleasing action, he delivers. The film doesn’t rely on bullet time or other silly gimmicks so common throughout the post-Matrix era. Instead, it packs most of its time full of very visible blood splatter, a handful of goofy yet well-armed rednecks, and a guy whose accent can’t decide if it is from Moscow or Dallas. The one-liners are of course stunningly bad, but would you ever dream of having it any other way?
The movie drags a little in the beginning, trying to establish some bit of background and plot, some vague reason that a bunch of people are ripping each other’s heads off in the desert. Eventually we realize that we don’t really give a shit why things happened the way they do, we just want to see it play out. Once we pass that hurdle, we are treated to a couple of pretty cool shootouts and beatdowns and almost every action cliché in the book: a deadbeat former Marine, an angry black policeman, dumber than shit women, really fast cars, and a fucking Maxim machine gun mounted in the back of a school bus (just go with it). If you are on the fence about Johnny Knoxville like I am, don’t worry, there is only one central character here and it’s Arnold. Every other person in the movie is merely there to support or antagonize his timeless badassery.
What they should have done to hasten the first part of the movie was instead of all of the boring dialogue in between shootouts, they should have just put in footage of Jennifer Lawrence in the shower. No one would have complained that it didn’t fit in the plot, because the movie had no plot to begin with. It doesn’t matter that Jennifer Lawrence isn’t in the movie either, because the character development is so thin (as it should be) that you probably wouldn’t have even noticed who was or wasn’t starring in the movie if his name didn’t start with A and end in R-N-O-L-D S-C-H-W-A-R-Z-E-N-E-G-G-E-R. No one really cares about the characters in action movies anyway; they are there to squeeze triggers and nothing more. It keeps your entertainment simple that way. This is a movie that kills people for violence’s sake, not to tug on your heartstrings or to make a statement. If they happen to throw you a bone(r) and show some hawt newdeetee for the hell of it, no one would have complained.
And speaking of the characters, don’t try to find deeper meaning in any of the actor’s portrayals of their roles. Doing so would be like trying to hold a black balloon up to the light to see what is inside, only to find that there is nothing inside the balloon, not even air, so all you are left with is the ability to stand in an awkward position and look stupid. Veteran fans of true action movies already know this of course, but it bears repeating just in case. The good guy is good, the bad guy is bad, the funny guy is funny, and Forrest Whittaker’s eye is still droopy. Take it at face value and enjoy it. The less you get attached to these characters, the less it bothers you that everyone dies at the end. Spoiler alert.
Now the very existence of this movie raises a couple of more philosophical questions, the most glaring one being at what point are you too old to be an action hero? Arnold was 65 at the filming of “The Last Stand” and the movie’s release coincides with new standalone entries from both Sly Stallone and Bruce Willis. Are these icons simply too old to be believably running and gunning? My answer is twofold:
1) Until they are too old to meet the physical demands, let them keep going.
2) Until we have enough real action stars to replace them, they must remain. The void of “hulking monstrosity” needs to be filled.
Even though Arnold is three times my age, he is still certifiably huge and could likely beat the shit out of any two or three people he would meet on the streets. Towering slabs of beef like he and Dolph Lundgren embodied the pinnacle of action greatness: they are imposing, intimidating, crude, and don’t take shit from anyone. Even Bruce Willis, who was never an overly-bulky guy, dripped testosterone so raw that it made the grass it fell on turn into chest hair. That was the 1980s, and things are very different now, and by different, I mean vaginafied. Sure we have a few good he-men like Jason Statham and Dwayne-the-Rock-Johnson, but their outings are not frequent enough to carry the action banner on their own and part-time actioners like Mark Wahlberg and Channing Tatum (please stop dancing dude… I would like you just a little more if you would only stop dancing) do little to contribute to the health of the genre. Until Hollywood produces another three or four Chris Hemsworths, movies from our favorite skull-crushers of yesteryear should be greeted with bulging biceps wide open.