Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker. Written by Andrew Knauer. Directed by Kim Jee-woon. 14A. 107 min. Opens Jan. 18.
The title of The Last Stand would’ve fit just fine for so many of the movies that it enthusiastically emulates, be they the blustery action flicks that ruled video-store shelves in the ’80s or the western shoot-’em-ups that thrilled an earlier generation. Even so, something with more pizzazz might’ve been nice, given that The Last Stand is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most enjoyably boneheaded screen venture since his Reagan-era heyday—they should have had the guts to call it Commando Unchained.
In any case, the former Governator is satisfyingly stone-jawed as the small-town sheriff of a California border town who leads his motley posse of deputies against an escaped drug lord and his crew of well-armed henchmen. It all culminates in a righteous display of all-American firepower and tenacity (though with the abundance of Korean talent behind the camera, capping it off with a cameo by PSY would’ve been equally fitting). A director who proved his forte for high-speed mayhem with his 2008 genre mashup The Good, the Bad, the Weird, Kim Jee-woon makes the shift to Hollywood far more smoothly than many filmmakers who leave their home turf. Kim has no illusions about the mission he’s undertaken, nor does he approach his task with any trace of condescension. As a result, the major action sequences—which include some astonishing car stunts and smart use of night-vision tech—are distinguished by a level of cunning and craftsmanship that’s rare for the genre.
More unexpected is how well The Last Stand rides that fine line between the smart and the stupid. Rare is the action flick that is so keenly conscious of its own ridiculousness yet still so dedicated to the hard work of delivering the goods. Even Arnie seems surprised to find himself rising to the occasion.