Rather than talk about talking about THE LAST STAND as Arnold Schwarzenegger's full-fledged return to starring roles in films (excluding his supporting/cameo roles in the EXPENDABLES movies), I'm going to try to attempt to review this as just a new action film. Having Schwarzenegger in it doesn't automatically make the movie better, especially since very little about THE LAST STAND reminds me of his older action work. His Sheriff Ray Owens is an old man (he admits as much) who moved from Los Angeles to Sommerton Junction, Arizona to get away from the death-defying violence of the big city. Unlike many of Arnold's other characters, he'd rather not get involved in any fire fights, fist fights, or car chases. He wants the worst thing he deals with in his week to be throwing drunks in the tank for a weekend.
Turns out Sheriff Owens used to lead an elite task force of the LAPD, but after a bust went bad and all of his team was killed or crippled in the process, he departed in a hurry. In the 24 hours or so that this movie takes place, most of the townsfolk are heading out of town to attend a football game, leaving Owens and his three deputies alone to mind the fort. Although the film isn't big on character development, it is nice to see Arnold kick back for the first chapter of THE LAST STAND so we can get to know his demeanor, routines, and priorities as a lawman.
But it doesn't take long for him to get a call from FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) that escaped federal prisoner and noted Mexican drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) is heading for his bordertown in a Corvette that goes 200 mph. An advance team of baddies (led by the always insane Peter Stormare has already gone through to build makeshift bridge over a deep ravine at the border where Cortez will cross, so this is his only possible route. After the FBI fails to get a SWAT team to take out Cortez in his car (he has kidnapped an agent, played by Genesis Rodriguez, and is driving with her), it's up to the good sheriff and his deputies, including ones played by Luis Guzmán and THOR's Jaimie Alexander.
Equally important as THE LAST STAND being Schwarzenegger's big return to leading-man status, the movies is also the English-language debut of the great South Korean director Jee-woon Kim (A TALE OF TWO SISTERS; THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD; I SAW THE DEVIL), who isn't actually known for action set pieces quite like the ones here. The film does not skimp on the blood and guts; when someone gets shot in the head, there's a big hole and lots of red spray. The hand-to-hand fights are just as brutal, especially the climactic showdown between Owens and Cortez on the aforementioned bridge. Kim keeps things rolling at an impressive pace, but also is good at giving us a few minutes to catch our breath between the shooting and other forms of destruction.
I know many action filmmakers believe a film this serious needs some comic relief, but I was in a great deal of pain every time Johnny Knoxville showed his face on screen, and I saw that as someone that tends to like him more often than not. He's just a dumb dude, who also happens to be the town gun nut. He's more a plot device than a character, and the fact that he has amassed a huge arsenal of weapons that our heroes can use to defend the town and try to stop Cortez from passing through is the only reason the character exists. Along with the town drunk and former soldier, played by Rodrigo Santoro, Knoxville is deputized during the siege and add virtually nothing to the movie.
No, the dialogue isn't that great, and far too many of the characters (including every FBI agent) is incompetent or stupid, but THE LAST STAND has quite a few excellent action sequences, some beautifully shot moments (courtesy of South Korean cinematographer Ji-yong Kim), and a solid lead performance by Schwarzenegger that keeps his one-liners to a minimum and his eye on the action. I was especially impressed visually with a car chance sequence in a corn field; the way it's handled is actually borderline inspiring. The film has its flaws and shortcomings, but I like that Arnold is beginning his true comeback playing someone who begins the film so dialed back--even if he does ramp up quickly. THE LAST STAND is a great deal of truly violent, R-rated fun, and it doesn't need to be anything more.