The other day a few buddies and I got together and decided to grab some pizza and watch a movie. Because we could not agree on anything, we all settled to watch the Last Stand, Arnold Schwarzeneggar's 2013 pop-action film about a small town country sheriff who has to stop an escaped Mexican drug lord from crossing back over the Mexican border to freedom.
One thing I realized right away upon watching this film is that acting is definitely not like riding a bike. This was Arnold's first major film after leaving political office, and it is painfully clear that he had been out of acting for eight years. Not that Arnold was ever very great at delivering lines, but Last Stand is perfect evidence that an actor cannot take the better part of a decade off and then just leap back into the groove.
Of course, if you are watching an Arnold movie, you're not watching it for the rich dialogue. You're watching it to see Arnold kill some people. And in that respect, this film definitely delivered. Arnold is a retired LAPD narcotics officer who has relocated to a tiny town on the Texas-Mexican border to be sheriff. The small town is predictably cliche, the sort of place where locals drink coffee lazily at the village diner and police officers help women gets cats out of trees (yes, that happens in the film).
But watch out! Hundreds of miles north, a vicious Mexican drug lord escapes federal custody in Las Vegas in an elaborate plot, takes a hostage, and is racing south to get back to Mexico. An FBI team - presided over by Forrest Whittaker in one of the worst performances of his career - pathetically fails to stop the fugitive. As the fugitive approaches the Mexican border, Arnold and his ragamuffin three-man sheriff department are the government's last stand to stop this drug lord from escaping.
The film was very over the top and even silly in many respects. Sometimes it felt like Last Stand was meant to make fun of the cop-that-plays-by-his-own-rules genre. My friends and I laughed several times during the movie; I'm not sure if we were supposed to or not. It was just so outlandish. In one scene, Arnold pushes a bad guy off a building - and then shoots him in the head while he is falling just to make sure. This elicited a round of hearty laughter. I'm sure some of this was meant to be a nod to Commando and a generation of earlier adventure films whose overblown action and gobs of gratuitous gunfire established the norms for the genre
Speaking of shooting, the movie is rated R. There are lots of shootings, and they are kind of bloody. But even the bloody shootings are kind of kitschy; it looks like they used the same special effect over and over again for every bullet strike. There's some great generic Arnold stuff with lot's of one-liners. "Who the hell are you?" a bad guy asks. "I'm the sheriff!" says Arnold, before putting a bullet in his head. Other than the somewhat graphic shooting, there's a moderate amount of cussing, though not a ton.
There's a supporting cast of B-grade actors. I recognized a wrinkled Johnny Knoxville; the other cast I didn't know by name. My buddy referred to them as "that chick from Thor", and I recognized "That dude from Count of Monte Cristo." They are often there just for convenience: the secondary character who just happened to have military experience when Arnold needs him, the great guy who has a "But he was one day till retirement!" sort of tragic death that helps us have a personal animus against the bad guys (because we can't sufficiently detest evil unless it is personal, right?); the gun collector who just happens to have a gargantuan cache of automatic weapons when Arnold needs them. You know.
So, don't expect a lot from the writing or the plot. Some things are evidently done just to create occasions for Arnold to kill people. Remember that scene in the Hobbit films where Legolas - whom we all know can kill anybody he wishes at any time from a distance with an arrow fired flawlessly - encounters an orc in Lake Town and instead of shooting him, for some reason pulls out a sword for a grueling ten minute duel? Yeah that sorta thing happens in Last Stand. The drug lord has been plowing through hundreds of miles of police checkpoints using snowplows, military trucks, race cars and everything else - but when they reach Arnold's town, for some reason they get out and try to pass through on foot, creating the fifteen minute street fight finale that gives Arnold and his sheriffs the opportunity to mow the bad guys down.
So...in the end, the movie was fun, in a goofy pop-corn sort of way. Don't take it too seriously. If the point of the film was to be entertaining, it certainly was. As long as you're not looking for much more than that, you should be happy with it. Good flick to eat pizza and drink a beer to.
Two out of three tiaras.