Action Movie Friday: The Last Stand

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: The Last Stand
MPAA Rating: R
Release: 2013
Genre: Action, Comedy
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Jamie Alexander, Forest Whitaker, Rodrigo Santoro, Luis Guzman, Eduardo Noriega, Genesis Rodriguez, Zach Gilford and Peter Stormare
Director:  Jee-Woon Kim
Writer: Andrew Knauer
Distributor: Lionsgate
Budget: $30 Million
Box Office: $48 Million

(okay this is a horrible trailer, horrible. Just WOW. Way NOT to represent the real movie at all. Ouch.)

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 60%

Gingersnaps Rating: Three and a half cookies!

This movie has the distinction of being the first movie that Arnold starred in after leaving office as Governor of California. It was quickly followed that same year by the Escape Plan, co-starring with Stallone. After, there were lack luster reviews and poor showings at the box office for both films, some declared Arnold’s career over and that he should retire. As this is America and the only who gets to make that call is Arnold, I’m not making any judgments. 2014 added Sabotage, another rated R bloodbath that looked too violent for me, to his resume. It also did poorly. And an expanded part in Expendables 3 now that he could be paid for his work, that didn’t do as well as expected but better than most hoped. He is going to try another Terminator film this year. We’ll see how it goes. I wouldn’t count Arnold down for the count yet.

Summary:

A classified and undercover transport of a notorious cartel kingpin, Gabriel Cortez (Noriega,) goes horribly wrong and Cortez escapes, takes an agent (Rodriguez) hostage to buy him time and flees Las Vegas heading to the Mexico border in a souped up Chevy Corvette ZR1 at 200 mph. Meanwhile, in the sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction, Arizona, Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) is trying to take a day off. Most the town is gone due a football game, the Mayor left his car in a fire zone and a couple of truckers are making him uneasy, setting off his Sheriff instincts.  When a local farmer is found murdered, and his deputies stumble across Cortez’s hirelings building a bridge across the nearest ravine. Sheriff Owens deputizes, suits up and gets ready to defend his town from Cortez and his men. Cortez thought he had it all figured out, but he hadn’t taken into account the Sheriff of Sommerton Junction.

Review:

If you saw any of the posters or the box art for this movie, you would have thought that there were only two people in this film, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Johnny Knoxville. That might have been a mistake. They could have played up that Jamie Alexander from Thor was in the movie, or Rodrigo Santoro from 300. They certainly could have used Forest Whitaker’s name for anyone who enjoyed ER, The Shield and Criminal Minds. (Asking your average viewer to remember Phone Booth from 2002 might be a bit much.)  Hey, maybe even Luiz Guzman could have brought in viewers. However, to market the film they relied on whether or not one wanted to see Arnold after a several year hiatus from action and whether or not one liked Jackass hijinks. Obviously, this might not have been the smartest approach. On a $30 Million budget, the film only made $12 million domestically. Don’t expect to see a sequel anytime soon (and I don’t know what they’d call it anyways if this is ‘the last’ stand.) It made the rest of the money over seas and had about $10 million in blu-ray and DVD sales for as long as the-numbers.com kept track. So barely making back it’s production budget (and probably not covering it’s marketing budget at all). This movie was a financial flop. Which is sad, because it’s funny!

The weight of the movie as the promotional materials suggest does lie heavily on Arnold. Whether or not the rest of the actors and actresses are any good or not (they are) most of the weight and gravitas in the script is given to Arnold Schwarzenegger, while the other characters, like Agent Bannister, while they don’t come off as foolish, they come off as inexperienced.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Mainly because the first 62 minutes is to set up the stand off and fight in the last 45 minutes. It is one of those movies where just from watching that you know the inexperienced rookie who wants to get out of town is going to die because won’t listen to his superiors. That the shiny red Chevy Camaro ZL1 (oh baby) is going to play an important role just because they put so much emphasis on in being there. And that you want to throw popcorn at the screen because the FBI Agent Bannister is being an ass and not giving the Sheriff the information he needs.

I will say that on the first watch through, that one aspect did take me by surprise. I didn’t see it coming and the actor/ess put on such a good show that I truly believed what was going on was just as it seemed until it wasn’t. I don’t know if this was intentional or if they got halfway through the script and went “Crap, we’ve got a major plot hole, who can we twist to fill it.” Either way, well done.

As I’ve said. I don’t mind straight forward plots. You make a plot too confusing, one loses the viewer (IE. Basic.)  It’s the utter predictability of the plot that drives me insane. I’m going to have to take a bite out of the cookie for that.

Otherwise, the script is funny. I would hope it was funny with Johnny Knoxville on set. The film pokes fun at Arnold constantly.  Nothing is sacred from his dress, to his weight, his age and immigrant status. There are quite a few visually interesting sight gags during the fire fights. And the old lady in her shop is priceless.

Peter Stormare’s character  loved of rocket launchers, there was not one but two gratuitous explosions in this movie. Full marks and a full cookie.

The firefights were interesting, especially given they had the platform of a school bus (I would like to see this more often) and a whole inventory of antique weaponry from Dinkum’s (Knoxville) “museum.” (Can something that is only open once a week or month be a museum?) The big fight between Arnold and Eduardo’s characters was a lot simpler than most fights we expect from an action film. There were a lot of wrestling moves and Arnold throwing Eduardo around. It wasn’t brilliant. Eduardo isn’t in martial arts. It was still interesting and perhaps more realistic. So, a cookie.

Where they were more inventive was the car chase scenes. Even the scene in the very beginning when they broke Cortez out of jail was visually interesting. In a way, these scenes had to be interesting because most of this movie from the villain side is spent on the road. Even in a car going 200mph, they needed to give some obstacles other than what the Sheriff was setting up into his path. These were all dealt with with brutal and ‘holy shit did they just do that?’ efficiency. They even managed to put in a tussle between the Corvette and the Camaro because you can’t have two such iconic cars and not have them get into a “fight.” Which is sort of like brothers fighting really since they’re from the same company.

For the most part, the world building remained consistent. We were given exact times for when Cortez left Las Vegas and was headed towards Sommerton Junction and as far as we know he didn’t have to stop for fuel. I’m not sure how plausible that was, but having a fuel stop might not have been interesting. Overall it was a three hour drive going 200mph, so 600 miles. (Yeah, there probably should have been a fuel stop in there.) The cars had weight and force when at speed and were shown as such. When it was necessary to break road blocks, larger vehicles were brought in. And in the context of the movie, the Corvette was used to flip other vehicles or move them around, which made things exciting. Given that the movie made a point of saying that the car was faster than a helicopter, it was disappointing that wasn’t shown. As for the guns, for the heroes who had limited clips, they were shown running out of ammunition and having to find more. The goons on the other hand, had their hands on semi-automatic weapons that never seemed to run out. I’m going to have to take a bite out of the cookie for that.

Now, there are three women in this picture, Sarah, a deputy, Christie, the diner girl and Agent Ellen of the FBI. And none of them do anything. Ellen spends most of the picture a hostage. Christie is mostly a throw away character who is sweet and naive and there for laughs. And Sarah, while thankfully not the focus of a love triangle plot among the other deputy and his buddy, spends most of the movie following orders and cowering. Sometimes she gets to shoot while she cowers, but none of these three women have any major driving force to the plot in any meaningful way. There is no real character arc or character growth for any of them. It is incredibly disappointing and a waste of talent. No cookie.

Overall, this movie is good for a laugh and got a bad rap. While the plot might not be the most inventive, it’s at least straight forward and not confusing. Even as the characters in the plot play through their predictable patterns, the car sequences and explosions are entertaining. The film relies far too much on Arnold, who is at times a little stiff in the role, and doesn’t give enough screen time or plot time to other characters, most notably the female ones. Three and a Half Gingersnaps.

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