Border Patrol, by David Bax
There is good news to be found in director Kim Jee-woon’s first American movie, The Last Stand. Its star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, may have taken a ten-year break from lead roles in order to govern the state of California but any fears that he is too rusty or worn-out to return to action are dispelled once the film gets going. The bad news is that it takes so long to do so.
Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, a former LAPD vice detective who left the city to spend the rest of his working years as the sheriff of a tiny border town called Summerton Junction. When a very dangerous and very resourceful drug kingpin named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) escapes FBI custody in Las Vegas, his path to Mexico takes him right through Owens’ territory.
I’ll refrain from describing any more of the plot because pretty much anything beyond what I’ve just written doesn’t make a lick of sense. Cortez’s entire plan is not only convoluted to the point of implausibility, it’s also just a really bad plan. His scheme appears to be to draw as much attention to himself as possible as well as make it clear as day where he’s going yet only encounter one meager law-enforcement barricade along the way. Most mind-boggling is that, even within the confines of his dumb plan, the standoff that is the film’s centerpiece and gives it its title doesn’t have any logical reason to happen.
Far more frustrating, The Last Stand takes a long, long time getting to that explosive set-piece. It thinks it’s entertaining us along the way but the escape sequence and the series of car-centric action scenes in the first half feel not egregiously bad but hopelessly familiar.
Once it does reach the point we’ve been waiting for – with Owens and his deputies at one end of the idyllic main street of town and a passel of well-armed henchman at the other – the whole movie takes flight. It’s graphically and sometimes hilariously gory. Kim displays the expertise in spacial relationships and pacing that are necessary for a massive, multi-tiered sequence like this one. It’s mostly just people shooting at each other, like a dozen other movies that will be released this year, but he manages to make it fresh.
Despite the corny dialogue, the members of this great cast also succeed in making a series of clichés groan to life. Schwarzenegger is both a ruthless badass and a warm father figure to the younger officers, one of whom is played endearingly by Friday Night Lights’ Zach Gilford. Meanwhile, Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville double up on the comic relief while still getting their own hero moments. Peter Stormare is magnetically weird as the lead henchman. And Rodrigo Santoro turns in a surprisingly understated performance as the town fuck-up seizing the chance to regain respect. Dismayingly, the odd man out in the cast is Forest Whitaker. Given the thankless role of the FBI guy who spends the whole movie in a control room barking orders and exposition, he fails to elevate his scenes. Also appearing is Genesis Rodriguez, who was delightful in last year’s Casa de mi Padre but whose only function here is to give Noriega someone to monologue to.
Overall, The Last Stand is frustrating because it comes so close to spinning gold from the soiled hay of its lazily uninspired premise. It’s both better than you’d expect but nowhere near as good as you’d hope. It will likely secure a future as the Blu-ray you buy at a discount so that you can fast-forward to the good parts.