Movie Review: The Last Stand- As a Schwarzenegger Action Movie it is Passable but as a Kim Jee-Woon Film it is Completely Disappointing

The-Last-Stand-1Not too many people are familiar with South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon and those who are fairly familiar with the genre blending auteur couldn’t have imagined that he would direct an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. The non-English speaking director chose to debut his sweeping camera movements and knack for outlandish violence and characters with Schwarzenegger’s big return to action cinema in a leading role in almost ten years with extremely varied results. Action is a genre that has lost a bit of original spectacle possibly due to its obligatory insistence on being formulaic in structure giving us expected results. Kim Jee-Woon’s latest The Last Stand unfortunately falls into basic formula of plot but has just a bit of ingenuity with amusing violence and slightly humorous characters to become a passable film. As Schwarzenegger movies go The Last Stand will please the still dedicated few and the mindless action seeking hoards because it isn’t exactly his worst performance as an action star (though certainly not his best). But on the other side of the equation for those fans of Kim Jee-Woon’s work it is a major disappointment, especially after his last two features I Saw the Devil and The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. Jee-Woon obviously couldn’t write the feature because of his extremely limited use of the English language so it’s a surprise that the film comes together as it does basically avoiding complete disaster. So despite the familiar plot, the stretched for talent cast, and the awkward attempts at character depth, The Last Stand hold together as a mildly entertaining action film that showcases amusing boats of violence and some rather inventive car chasing that doesn’t seem repetitive or dull. Overall the film isn’t even remotely close to being a quality film but as a film that knows its limitations and accepts its pseudo-Western style with tongue in cheek recognition you could definitely do worse.

Action scripts have gone the way of the horror genre because the familiar and usual is always more digestible and accepted by the always returning popcorn guzzling crowds. Anything out of the ordinary is a risk and that just can’t be done with Arnold Schwarzenegger films since his filmography is filled with movies that resemble each other more than the clones in The 6th Day (ever seen that garbage? Don’t bother). The first accepted screenplay for The Last Stand was by newcomer Andrew Knauer and then re-written by “accomplished” screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff who has penned such memorable classics as The Day After Tomorrow and Traitor (if you picked up on sarcasm you are correct). Giving such a unique visionary like Kim Jee-Woon a basic plot stricken script means he had to work much harder to bring an entertaining delivery to regurgitated drivel. Escaped convict is making his way towards to border of Mexico and only a group of ragtag misfits led by the honorable Sheriff of a small town are the only ones in the way. If it sounds familiar it’s because numerous Westerns have followed the same premise for years and in better ways. Of course going into a Schwarzenegger film no one is going to expect a Shakespearean experience with emotional depth and complexity of character and perhaps an attempt at doing so would be fruitless. But as forgivable as the formulaic film plot might be it’s particularly lucky that Kim Jee-Woon was guiding the film’s crew to bring a touch of South Korean inventiveness to violence and spectacle that is rarely seen in the lazy action genre today.

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Anyone who has seen Kim Jee-Woon’s throwback South Korean western film The Good, The Bad, and The Weird knows that he has an incredibly unique vision for stylized violence and beautiful visuals. Unfortunately with The Last Stand there aren’t necessarily any landscapes or unique costumes or vast set designs worth capturing with his usual sweeping camera movements so he falls back on his other talent, which is violence. Kim Jee-Woon brought along fellow South Korean Kim Ji-Yong to act as his cinematographer and they had previously worked together on an earlier Kim Jee-Woon film Dalkomhan Insaeng in 2005. Together they were able to give this action movie a little bit of a stylish touch as they provide sweeping camera movements and carefully planned out sequences that aren’t as frenzied or chaotic as one would expect. Once they get heavily involved with shoot outs and car chases the film definitely finds its stride of strength as cars flip, blood sprays, and explosions commence. While all of this is expected of an action movie it’s the humorous setups that precede the violence that make the usual spectacle a bit unexpected. Those of us who were expecting much bigger things with Kim Jee-Woon’s American cinema debut should keep in mind that this first feature does showcase a great deal of his visual and outlandish character strengths even when he didn’t control the construction of the script. If it weren’t for the knowledge and vision of Kim Jee-Woon the film would have probably taken itself too seriously making it laughable action film instead of a fun mindless action film. It’s probably Kim Jee-Woon’s weakest film but he saved it from being lost in action genre obscurity. The Last Stand is intended to be a fun movie and despite many of its weaknesses it does inevitably give you a tad bit of fun and its obvious the cast took that to heart as well.

An Arnold Schwarzenegger helmed project seems like an incredible risk seeing as how his personal life has been as popular as Roman Polanski’s, but something about celebrity moral decline won’t deter too many loyal Schwarzenegger advocates or mindless action drones from seeing it. The Last Stand doesn’t have the impact that a best of Schwarzenegger film could provide but it certainly has more going for it than say Collateral Damage, End of Days, or Eraser. He is able to hold his own and provide entertaining moments despite his still incomprehensible vernacular and gravely limited acting abilities. Schwarzenegger is there for one reason only and that is to dominate the screen physically and with a hell of a lot of gun play. Along for the ride is a diverse cast of familiar faces and not so familiar faces. It’s always a surprise to see where Oscar winners fall and seeing Forrest Whitaker here is a reminder that his career wasn’t exactly strong before winning the award. He does an alright job in a cliché role but it still begs the question of how did it come to this. The second name on the poster as the star of the picture Johnny Knoxville doesn’t have to work hard and is a perfect fit for his oddball personality making it a far more bearable performance than what we saw in Men in Black 2. Everyone from Luis Guzman to Peter Stormare fill their roles with typical loudness and while these characters are flat in the writing they seem to be a little bit more alive with the cast accepting just how limited the roles actually are. There’s something to be said about self-mockery and even though The Last Stand could have used more of it there is still a tiny bit of self-referential awfulness to make it fun.

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Action movies are practically unreviewable because they all follow a familiar structure and already have a built in audience to prevent negative word of mouth. As most action films go The Last Stand isn’t at all the worst in a list of action movies over the last few years and is fairly good in terms of Arnold Schwarzenegger movie standards. However, this is also a Kim Jee-Woon film and it falls drastically short of the quality he usually delivers in his home country of South Korea. So The Last Stand has a bit of duality going for it that will prevent a vast bombardment of negative criticism. As a pseudo-western with stylized violence it is relatively entertaining while at the same time being incredibly frustrating in its bland dialogue and formulaic plot. As a Schwarzenegger film it lives up to the expected quality and delivers some fresh car chase spectacle and violence that is mildly amusing and entertaining. But for those wanting an action film that actually involves complex characters, unique approaches to plot changes, or twists of fortune and loss then you’ll still be left wanting. If you expect a piece of garbage Arnold Schwarzenegger film you might be relatively surprised at the fun it has but if you’re expecting something unique you’ll definitely be left out in the cold. Hopefully this film isn’t a sign of things to come for the action genre in 2013.

Grade: C

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