When is a western not a western? Well, when it's directed by Korean director Kim Jee-woon, when it's set in modern day smalltown America and when cars replace fast horses is a good enough place to start. Or, in short, when it's The Last Stand. Even so, The Last Stand is still a western. Yes, it’s got Jee-woon’s trademark stylish flourishes and the bad guy heads up a drugs cartel rather than a gang of bank robbers or cattle rustlers, but at its heart, it’s still a tale of the bad guys coming to town and the local sheriff standing up to them. And in this case, as has been very widely publicised, the sheriff is one Arnold Schwarzenegger, making his first proper headlining return to movies since his years of politics.
Happily, this doesn’t mean lots of Lethal Weapon-esque “I’m too old for this shit” one liners – although the age of the star is happily acknowledged – but does entail the classic Arnie formula – outnumbered good guy dispatches superiorly armed bad guys, while making the occasional quip – given a highly inventive, very slick makeover. It’s back-to-basics distilled for the 21st Century and the correct response to this offering is “yes, more like this please.”
Arnie is Ray Owens, sheriff of Sommerton Junction, a place that’s gone past sleepy and is approaching unconscious. It’s not so much a job as retirement with a badge, and the change of pace Ray wanted after a traumatic climax to his LA narcotics squad police career.
Meanwhile in Las Vegas, FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) is in trouble. He was transferring Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), the world’s most vicious drugs cartel leader, to death row but Cortez’s men had other ideas and, with the help of a big magnet and a lot of men in orange tracksuits, Cortez is now in a stolen, ludicrously tweaked concept Corvette speeding towards the Mexican border with one of Banister’s agents (Genesis Rodriguez) as his hostage. The crossing point? Sommerton Junction. If only there was someone there that could prevent this “psychopath in the Batmobile” getting across the border…
The set-up sounds conventional but is anything but, with some incredible set pieces, a couple of twists, some very dry dialogue and, always a bonus, Peter Stormare as Cortez’s head henchman trying to make sure all goes to plan. But however well prepared Stormare’s character may be, can he ever be a match for Arnie, his deputies Sarah (Alexander) and Figgy (Guzmán), and local eccentric – and, wouldn’t you know it, historic gun collector – Lewis (Knoxville)?
The results are just cracking fun. There are flaws – let’s be honest, Arnie’s acting was never his strongpoint and satisfying characterisation and back story are barely even on nodding terms with The Last Stand – but they’re easily forgiven when the rest of the film moves like a crowd pleasing freight train. He always said he’d be back. He is.
EXTRAS ★★★ The making-of featurette Not In My Town (28:11); the scene breakdown Cornfield Chaos (11:21); the featurette The Dinkum Firearm & Historic Weaponry Museum Tour (11:21); six deeted scenes (8:15); seven extended scenes (14:06); and the featurette Actor-Cam Anarchy (10:32) with Alexander and Knoxville.