“The Last Stand” is being billed as the return of the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In reality, it’s the English-language debut of South Korean wunderkind Kim Jee-woon. How could the press have missed that key point?
Korean films, well, some of them at least, pulse to a much different beat than western films. Logic is thrown out the window and genre conventions tossed into a blender. This works very well with fantasy, horror and action. (Historical action is more routinely done but none the less very exciting in Korea.)
Sticking a cinema icon like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the midst of such nonsense deserves the Korean equivalent of an Oscar. Add Johnny Knoxville from the TV reality series “Jackass” and Peter Stormare from “Fargo” and all you then need is kimchi.
Oh, you still want to know about Arnold?
Well, he definitely looks his age. Fit but at 65 he has no business playing anyone’s last action hero. Then again, comedy was always his other default and in the future he might consider that.
Yet if you read the production notes, you realize the producers and financiers are orgasmic over snagging Arnold for their movie. For the record this isn’t Arnold’s comeback. He made that in another Lionsgate film by Sly Stallone, “The Expendables 2.”
Whatever fans Schwarzenegger has left, if they live in California they’re undoubtedly mad about having voted for government-by-photo-op. Probably everyone else think he’s a California joke.
The film is really a Howard Hawksian western where all that stands between a Mexican bandito and the border is a tough hombre sheriff with no back-up and a motley bunch of deputies.
How does that work in 2013?
Not easily but screenwriter Andrew Knauer, who is either the best or worst writer imaginable, does hocus-pocus to make it work. See, this really bad dude, drug cartel kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), escapes from a posse of lawmen in a specially rigged Corvette ZR1 with 1,000 horsepower. (At times the movie plays like an Infomercial for the ‘vette.)
This Corvette can outrun anything. What about planes and helicopters? you ask.
Well, the chopper “loses visual” on the car. Yeah, right — then again it is night. The contrast between this picture and “Zero Dark Thirty” concerning American nighttime military capabilities is awesome.
Anyway, the sheriff like Gary Cooper in “High Noon” — or maybe it’s John Wayne in “Rio Bravo” — stands in the street of his little Arizonan border town and dares Cortez to come through.
To be sure, all this is served up with enough jokes about Arnold’s age and the implausibility of the escape to cover the filmmakers’ rear ends in the absurdity department.
A fair amount of comedy too comes from Knoxville and Luis Guzman as two of the deputies. (Enough so in the latter case that he gets to appear with Arnold in a prologue trumpeting this as Arnold’s return to cinema which, again, it is not.)
In the old days, the Keystone Kops suffered all kinds of indignities and in slapstick people slipped on banana peels and were none the worse for wear. There is a new kind of slapstick in action film where good guys and bad guys suffer serious wounds and shake it off like dandruff.
This is the state of things here: Gun shot wounds, deep gashes and stabs with knives deter no one. At one point a man’s back is clearly broken but he’s up in moments for another round.
Pass the kimchi.
Opens: January 18, 2013 (Lionsgate)
Production companies: Lionsgate, Di Bonaventura Productions
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzman, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford, Genesis Rodriguez, Daniel Henney, John Patrick Amedori, Harry Dean Stanton
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Screenwriter: Andrew Knauer
Producer: Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Executive producers: Guy Riedel, Miky Lee, Edward Fee, Michael Paseronek, John Sacchi
Director of photography: Ji Yong Kim
Production designer: Franco Carbone
Costume designer: Michele Michel
Editor: Steven Kemper
Rated R, 108 minutes