It makes sense why each of the main creative forces behind “The Last Stand” would have signed on to make it. With his first produced screenplay, writer Andrew Knauer has crafted an action-packed Western laced with comedic elements and propelled by a ticking-clock plot. For his first English-language production, director Kim Jee-woon gets to flex his well-established genre-hopping muscles, and for his first leading role in a decade, Arnold Schwarzenegger is offered endless ammo and quips with which to maintain his superstar status.
I’m not entirely sure if the end result is quite what any or all of these men might have set out to make, but it’s a sloppy bit of fun once it gets going, situated well between both the best and worst that all involved have had to offer audiences. (I’m giving Knauer the benefit of the doubt here.)
The fairly rough-hewn Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, sheriff of the sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction, Arizona, who’s alerted by FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) as to the coming threat posed by fugitive Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega, defined by bland swagger). The drug kingpin has a hostage and a souped-up Corvette at his disposal, and with the help of some well-armed lackeys, he’s making a beeline from Vegas to the Mexican border.
Cortez’ plan has already resulted in nearby bloodshed, thanks to the hard-at-work henchmen led by Burrell (Peter Stormare), so Owens plans on doing his part to prevent this bad man from making it through their town, backed only by his inexperienced deputies (Luis Guzman, Zach Gilford, Jaimie Alexander, Rodrigo Santoro) and the local gun nut (Johnny Knoxville).
The first half is burdened with no small amount of labored set-up, mostly doled out through gritted teeth by Whitaker’s character, as we wait for Owens and Cortez to actually come close enough to pose a physical threat to one another. The earlier action sequences are mostly defined by constant push-ins and the aggressive use of Dutch angles, often leaving matters a hectic blur in contrast to the remarkable lucidity of the director’s earlier work (“I Saw the Devil” and “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” in particular). In the meantime, old flames talk to one another as if it’s common to rehash one another’s entire backgrounds despite years of assumed familiarity, while Guzman, Gildford and Knoxville bumble around in the margins.
Things bounce back in the film’s second half, which opts for a little less conversation, a little more action, and proceeds to interpret classic Westerns like “High Noon” and “Rio Bravo” in the vein of proudly cartoonish violence. Knoxville gets to imitate “Weird’s” buffoonish bandit, Stormare’s accent selector goes on the fritz, and Arnie ensures that baddies get blown up real good. Plenty of lip service is paid to his character’s past as an LA narcotics officer, but Schwarzenegger knows how to take down thugs and bear the weight of age with equal ease. This isn’t his “Unforgiven,” but it isn’t trying to be, and God knows that his stiff delivery still can’t salvage the worst one-liners.
The bloodshed speaks volumes enough, though, even if it takes some time getting to the mayhem proper. “The Last Stand” may not be the glorious comeback project for its star or worthy crossover effort by its director that fans may have hoped for, but at the end of the day -- and in the dead of winter -- at least it does what it says on the tin.