Chief Justice Michael Stailey returns to active reviewing, if only to prove he still can.
Retirement is for sissies.
Arnold is back in the cinematic saddle. Despite surfacing in cameos for a handful of recent films (The Expendables 2), California's former two-term Governor has spent the better part of 10 years focusing on matters more socially, politically, and economically conscious. There are those who would say he's back where he belongs, and I'm inclined to agree.
Facts of the Case
Stop me if you're heard this one before. A psychopathic, immensely wealthy Mexican drug lord (Eduardo Noriega, The Devil's Backbone) buys off one or more of his Federal captors, arranging a dramatic escape from custody and equally dramatic race across the border. With the help of a high-tech armed-to-the-teeth mercenary militia, said criminal easily takes down each and every US law enforcement attempt to stop him. Only a small border town sheriff (Schwarzenegger) and his rag tag team of deputies stand between our bad guy and freedom. What could possibly go wrong?
The last film Schwarzenegger fronted was 2002's Collateral Damage, and by that time his A-list action days were rapidly waning. The 6th Day, End of Days, and Batman and Robin were critical failures, though still managing to rake in decent box office. He'd actually been far more successful in serio-comedic outings—Jingle All the Way, Junior, True Lies, Kindergarten Cop, and Twins—all playing off the larger than life persona of his '80s glory days. But Hollywood loves to resurrect its heroes with a new twist, so producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers) put newcomer Andrew Knauer's somewhat derivative script into the hands of visionary South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-Woon (The Good The Bad The Weird). The result is a fun albeit moronic joyride.
I'm a child of the 1980s. We grew up loving Arnold swinging a badass broadsword as Conan the Barbarian, racking up a massive body count while walking a fine line between villain and anti-hero as The Terminator, taking down one badass alien known as the Predator, going Commando to rescue his kidnapped daughter from South American terrorists, and escaping Richard Dawson's deadly reality game show The Running Man. Because of Schwarzenegger's presence, these films are just as enjoyable today (if not more so) than when we saw them on the big screen. So how could anyone resist going back to that well AT LEAST one more time, knowing full well that time and life have not been especially kind to the Governator?
The Last Stand is a noble attempt to ease Arnold back into the hero role, and he continues to wear the mantle well. Like Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford before him though, the echoes of past glory inform more of our enjoyment than the film we're actually watching. We keep waiting for familiar things to happen, be it an iconic look, a fight move, or a line delivery. And in that sense, we overlook or forgive the fact that what's developing on screen is utterly ridiculous.
For example, Cortez' escape seemingly happens in super-slow-motion, while a horde of federal agents run around like idiots without a freakin' clue how to stop it. And this disconnect carries through most each action set piece. We love what we see, but the logic behind it is pretty much inexcusable. Credit where credit is due, though. The cornfield car chase is awesome, and the well-choreographed mano-a-mano climactic throwdown is vintage bliss. I have yet to partake in the rest of Kim Jee-Woon's filmography, but his practical visceral style is a visual and auditory treat.
As is the case in most Arnold films, his supporting cast is easy on the eyes and offers some nice comic relief. Jamie Alexander (Thor) plays the beautiful tough chick in over her head. Rodrigo Santoro (300) is the misunderstood town troublemaker with a heart of gold. Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights) is Sancho Pazna to Arnold's Don Quixote. Johnny Knoxville is…well, Johnny Knoxville (Jackass) getting to play with weapons and blow shit up. Peter Stormare (Fargo) gets more of an opportunity to be villainous than the Noriega's Cortez, and does so with glee. Even the great Harry Dean Stanton (Marvel's The Avengers) gets a brief moment to shine. The one person left in the dust of this picture is Forest Whitaker (Platoon), an embarrassing excuse for an FBI agent who can't do anything right.
By the time The Last Stand ends, you realize there's been little to no character development, the relationships are all paper thin, the plot steals from pretty much every action and western picture ever made, and there really are no stakes to any of the dramatic elements. Oh well…
Presented in 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen, this Lionsgate transfer is top notch rich with the warm colors of the American southwest, deep blacks for the nighttime action, Tarantino-esque levels of blood and guts, and a wicked amount of lens perspective you won't find in American filmmaking. This is R-rated action, after all. The real zest of the picture can be found in this crazy DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track, which puts you front and center for anything and everything. Seriously. If you have a robust home theatre system, this is a disc you want to pull out to impress your friends.
Like his native language films, Kim backloads his home video releases with a fair amount of bonus features. Six deleted and six extended scenes which help flesh out the character backstories but kill the narrative momentum (22 min), three behind-the-scenes featurettes that reveal green screen work in places you wouldn't expect (60 min), actor POVs from Jamie Alexander and Johnny Knoxville (10 min), as well as iTunes and UltraViolet digital copies. That's more than what Chistopher Nolan offers up for his films.
Long story short, come for the Arnold revival, stay for the immersive a/v presentation, and don't think too hard about the story they're trying to tell.
This schnitzel is undercooked, but surprisingly tasty.
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Scales of Justice
• Extended/Deleted Scenes
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