Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Last Stand

The Last Stand seems like something of a fatalistic title for a movie whose star is attempting a comeback and whose director is trying to break into a new market, doesn't it? Not that I'd blame it for the movie's fairly disappointing opening weekend; there seemed to be a lot of factors there.

I think a big part of it goes to Arnold Schwarzenegger being old, the trailer playing that up, and age and experience isn't exactly what sells action to audiences. Oh, the Expendables movies do all right, because they've got a critical mass of star power and play on both real and inherited nostalgia. Just seeing an old guy try and succeed at a young man's game - and an old guy who isn't considered much of an actor - isn't quite what audiences are looking for.

And that "not considered much of an actor" bit is surprisingly important, because, when you think about it, we don't really have any people like Arnold Schwarzenegger today whose main function is to look the part of a guy who can handle himself in a big fight. He's been supplanted by Matt Damons, Jeremy Renners, and Liam Neesons, good actors who can play a lot of roles but don't bring the instant association with butt-kicking with them. That's not necessarily something you need for a movie like The Last Stand - it's not that bad acting would be considered a positive (Johnny Knoxville and Forest Whitaker both kind of hurt things, actually) so much as "good enough" is good enough, and feeling something intangible is just as important as any finer detail an actor with more varied talents can give.

It's a shame that people seemed to dismiss Arnold this weekend, because he gets the job done and there was a heck of an action movie built around him. Plus, this tanking probably means it will be some time before an American studio decides to give Kim Jee-woon the money to play with the big Hollywood toys again, and while I am perfectly okay with him continuing to make great movies in South Korea, I'm not going to be the guy that says there's any sort of inherent virtue limited means: Having North American resources didn't hurt Kim, and I'd have liked to see what he did with an even bigger budget.

Minor regret about the eFilmCritic review: I never did find a good spot to say, when talking about how the movie is occasionally played broad, that Kim/the movie isn't afraid of a little corn. Folks who have seen it will know why I wanted to.

The Last Stand

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2013 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, digital)

The Last Stand is an action movie for the folks who love action movies enough to look for the good ones. It doesn't try to clobber the audience with sheer size or try to trick them into thinking they've seen something cool with quick cutting. It may not even look like anything special to audiences jaded by the continual one-upmanship of blockbusters, but its ambition is to do most things a little better than one might expect, and it succeeds often enough for this to add up.

It starts at two ends of the road: In Las Vegas, FBI Special Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) is hoping for a quiet prisoner transfer of Mexican cartel boss Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega); down in Sommerton Junction, New Mexico, Sherriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his three deputies (Luis Guzman, Jaimi Alexander & Zach Gilford) are expecting a quiet weekend while most of the town heads on the road with the high school basketball team. Cortez escapes, of course, fleeing for Sommerton Junction and the border in a souped-up sports car, but a hitch in the plan implemented by his hired gun Burrell (Peter Stormare) may have Sherriff Owens waiting for him.

Cortez's escape plan is, of course, needlessly elaborate - it requires a ridiculous number of mercenaries at both ends and at least one point in between using some fairly specialized equipment - and the circumstances necessary on the other end for Owens and company to put up a fight (a mostly-empty town and a helpful gun nut) are just as unlikely. They at least have the virtue of being amusing, involving cranes and electromagnets and cars going two hundred miles per hour and machine guns where you'd least expect them. Andrew Knauer's script seldom uses absurdity as a short cut or a way to back out of a difficult situation; it always leads to something that is fun to see.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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