When viewing a certain kind of action film – one starring Arnold Schwarzeneggar – you make a decision on what lens you adopt to view the film through. As a critic, one generally views each and every film equally and considers its place in the film world, what other films it branches from and whether or not it earns its place in a cinemagoers world – two hours of their time. The other viewpoint is, and I borrow this from the lexicon as established from three decades of action film fans, as An Arnie Film.
It’s something that has kept viewers comfortable in their cinema seats and VHS tapes worn completely at the heads. Like an AC/DC record or a PG Wodehouse novel, you go in knowing completely what to expect and deliberations otherwise are borderline nonsensical. Schwarzeneggar himself, coming off the back of The Expendables 2, is desperate for a hit, something to recapture the glory days of old. His last truly great film was Terminator 2 and that was released in 1991 (End of Days was good, I think, but I can’t trust my memory to make the call.)
Serving as a Governor will certainly put a halt on your movie roles and one wonders why he’s bothering coming back so late in the day. Arnie, noting his recent headlines of fathering a lovechild, strikes me as a man one would not hurriedly describe as modest so perhaps it’s an arrogance to prove himself one more given Dwayne Johnson is currently annihilating the competition in the badass stakes.
It’s two-thirds of An Arnie Film. The first act is a forty-odd minute stanza that introduces FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whittaker) on the hunt for the killer Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega). It’s a thrilling sequence that is amplified through solid camerawork and editing that’s not strictly join-the-dots, unlike so many action films of late. We’re introduced to Ray as a support character initially; killing time in the local dusty café and offering sage advice to the young inept officer that wants to make it big. A couple of worrisome thugs (minor spoiler) kill off an inconvenient farmer that’s putting a stop to their plans of assistance for Cortez and Ray becomes worried. From here you can guess what happens. Kim works the humour in well, such as the brief scene where Ray instructs his citizens to run for cover as they relax in the diner.
For starters, yes Arnie has (mostly) lost it. He’s still kicking ass and taking names but the age has wearied him and his face is certainly showing it. (Director Jee-woon Kim wisely instructs him to keep his shirt on at all times.) This time around he’s playing Ray Owens, a by-the-books county sheriff of Sommerton Junction. There’s a serial killer on the loose that’s trying to reach the Mexican border and he’s planning on travelling through Sommerton to reach it. You guessed it – this is one serial killer that messed with the wrong sheriff.
What it is however is one of Arnie’s most fun films thus far in his whole catalogue. Gone is the campy, cringe-worthy nature that dogged so many of his bizarre late 90’s film choices. We’re given a trim, succulent cut of action that is a refreshing beat in the numbskullery dumbass past decade. Where Snyder has given us visually impressive but otherwise dull pieces and every director fails to acknowledge the rule of Don’t Adapt Video Games, The Last Stand emerges as one of the more accessible, more inclusive films of recent time. It harks back to the violence and stunts of the 70s and 80s and we get to cheer along as Arnie shoots a guy in the face as he tackles him off a roof. Luis Guzman emerges as the standout, surprisingly, as Ray’s deputy Mike. He’s in usual Guzman Mode, acting the warm ignored stubborn fool, and it plays fantastically off Arnie’s coldness.
One wonders how much longer Schwarzeneggar can keep doing this. He’s cashing in on his legend (or, Hollywood is) and he needs to keep working with good directors if he’s to maintain any plans for longevity. Unlike the ageing Bill Murray, who has found a second resurgence through drama, Arnie isn’t awarded such options due to his incredible lack of any acting ability. Action is literally the only genre that will reward bad acting (if you have muscles) and there’s only so many years you can keep playing that same game when you’re pushing seventy.
A supporting cast consisting of Forest Whitaker, Peter Stormare, Luis Guzman and a smartly tiny role for Johnny Knoxville help to create a fun atmosphere that makes up for the awful, awful acting by the leads. There’s a few standout scenes and the film ends on a set piece – one mother of a shootout in Summerton’s main streets – but overall the impact is of a friendly hug by an old friend you haven’t seen for twenty years. That’s not exactly a bad thing, especially if you’re a fan of the 80’s action hero himself, but for An Arnie Film one hopes for a little more.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire
Released on the 21st of February 2013