Friday, 1 February 2013


(Kim Ji Woon, 2013)

Its always a bit of a problem when your leading man can't act. And Arnold Schwarzenegger can't. Never could. Not only that; he's not even remotely convincing as any sort of normal human being. There is a shot of him walking down the street like some normal joe in True Lies which is just hilarious because his persona is so exaggeratedly superhuman, so effortlessly larger-than-life; when he wants to break out of that, he'll always struggle, even after years away from movies.
And that is the case with Kim Ji-woon's The Last Stand, an old-fashioned modern Western with a High Noon-esque concept at its heart: theres a very bad guy coming, and the sheriff of a small Texan town is damn sure gonna stop him. Schwarzenegger portrays that Sheriff, and for all the attempts to play his ageing, wrinkled cragginess in a wryly reflective Eastwood manner, he doesn't have the range or presence to sell even this character. From the moment he shows up, you wait for the shooting to start. Because that is what he's good at. And so it proves here.
Clever directors - including James Cameron, Walter Hill, John Milius and John McTiernan - have made use of Schwarzenegger's odd appeal in films, casting him as taciturn killers and stoic warriors, but here he has to emote on a few occasions, and each time it is truly painful to watch the gears crank under the surface of his face while he tries unsuccessfully to evoke pain or regret or angst. His voice is another problem - that voice like an ocean liner scraping against a coral reef, his accent as robotic and emotionless as ever - and it renders every line identical in tone and feeling. Whereas in the action scenes he sets his jaw and narrows his eyes and makes those familiar guttural noises of fury and agony and all seems right in this particular corner of the cinematic world.
This film is an odd choice for Kim Ji-woon's first Hollywood production. Yes, it showcases his ability to orchestrate big action sequences, but the script is all about efficiency and has none of the dark grace notes of his best Korean work (A Bittersweet Life, say). The characters here are reliably one-noted and cliched and there are far too many of them, with Schwarzenegger backed by a superfluous and inexhaustible host of deputies and townspeople, including such stock figures as "the young deputy who wants more action away from his smalltown home but is unprepared for it when it comes" (Zach Gilford), the "town eccentric there purely for comic relief" (Johnny Knoxville)  and the "quirkily demented, unpredictably violent bad guy" (Peter Stormare). Most of the dialogue is awful, the performances at a corresponding level but a couple of good action sequences just about make it worthwhile.
The first of those is a nocturnal firefight between the lawmen and some militia gunmen, interrupted by Schwarzenegger showing up and killing a bunch of bad guys with a shotgun and a jeep, the second a visceral car chase through a cornfield which is nicely, vividly textured and the third is a fistfight on a bridge which is half WWE, half The Big Country. Those three suggest that The Last Stand relies on traditional action beats for its appeal, and that is undoubtedly true. A decent cast is wasted, the gags are weak throughout, and the attempts at actual drama are inept.
This is, frankly, a film for undemanding action fans and nobody else.

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