The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Last Stand

It's good to have Arnold Schwarzenegger back. That is all. Elected Governor of California in 2003, the action star served two terms, putting his film career on hold for the time being. He returned to movies with The Expendables, a slightly bigger part in its sequel and officially took a key supporting role in last year's Escape Plan. But now, it's time for a leading role in a good, old-fashioned shoot 'em up, 2013's The Last Stand.

In the quiet border town of Sommerset Junction in Arizona, Sheriff Ray Towns (Schwarzenegger) enjoys a peaceful, restful life after years of serving in the L.A.P.D. Narcotics and Tactical Division. Well, that idyllic, peaceful life is about to get thrown a curve. With much of the town following the high school football team on a road game, Towns gets a call that someone has been murdered. His deputies stumble upon something in the desert, heavily armed ex-military firing on the deputies. At the same time, Towns gets another call, this time from FBI agent Bannister (Forest Whitaker), with a warning. A highly dangerous leader of a powerful drug cartel, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), has led a bloody escape and is making a beeline for Mexico in a modified, souped-up sports car. Bannister believes Cortez is heading right to Sommerset Junction. Towns figures Cortez's plan out, ex-military and all, but can he and his motley crew of deputies stop Cortez?

Ah, action movies, how I love you. This flick didn't do much business last year in theaters -- netting a little over $48 million -- but I remember catching the first trailer for this and being intrigued. This wasn't a movie I was dying to see, that I needed to see, but could it be good? Oh, you bet, and that's what it is in the end. From director Kim Jee-woon, 'Stand' is an entertaining, well-done action movie that's cheesy and goofy, blending some fun characters with one-liners, lots of bloody action and a straightforward good guys vs. bad guys premise. It isn't interested in rewriting the genre, and that's fine. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of last year's 2 Guns, a type of crime action movie that was really popular in the 1970s, especially with the U.S./Mexico border setting. Just enjoy it. Don't overthink it.

Schwarzenegger!!! It's fun to see one of Hollywood's all-time great action stars getting back to business. I got a taste of his return in Escape Plan (his parts in the Expendables are cameos as part of an ensemble, nothing more), but this is where it's at, the Governator in a lead role. Working off a script from Andrew Knauer, Schwarzenegger makes it look easy, even effortless, but he's always got that energy for the action. In other words, there's never a sense that he is phoning it in. Sure, the script has some fun with the 67-year old action star, but it's all in good fun. My favorite? "Sheriff, how are you?" to which Towns answers "Old" having crashed through a window. His backstory is handled in a quick explanatory scene, giving some depth to the small town country sheriff that's pretty familiar in action movies. How does Andy Taylor, um, uh....Arnold Schwarzenegger respond? With a whole lot of shootouts, gunfights and knock-down fist fights, as we've come to expect.

Who else to watch out for? Whitaker does his best as the city boy, the FBI agent who doesn't think a country sheriff could possibly know what he's talking about....even though the polished FBI agent just let a death row prisoner escape. Whitaker disappears in the second half as the action escalates, reappearing late. Johnny Knoxville has the comedic relief as Lewis Dinkum, the town kook with a warehouse full of guns, a part that's just right, not overused or overdone. Jaimie Alexander and Luiz Guzman are Towns' deputies, Rodrigo Santoro playing a town resident who teams up with the crew for the fight. Noriega is a more than worthy villain, his Cortez dripping with intensity and absolutely no fear, Genesis Rodriguez his "unwilling hostage." And because every cartel villain needs an over the top henchman, we get Peter Stormare as Burrell, the leader of the ex-military setting the ground work for Cortez's escape over the border. Also, look for Hollywood veteran and great character actor Harry Dean Stanton in a small uncredited part early.

With a movie that clocks in at 107 minutes, we're never long in between action scenes (and take away 6, 7 minutes for a long credit sequence). Cortez's escape is a good start -- reminding me somewhat of 2003's S.W.A.T. -- as the FBI scrambles to get him back. The highlight comes at the hour-mark, Cortez's advance crew descending on Sommerton where Towns and his deputies are waiting. It's entertaining and bloody and all over the place, bad guys dispatched with a head shot and a cool one-liner. Towns' entrance into the shootout is pretty epic too, Santoro driving a school bus, Schwarzenegger and Knoxville in the back with a seemingly ancient Vickers machine gun. The action is almost non-stop, but it's basically one sequence on top of another over the last hour. The finale between Towns and Cortez at the border is a whopper too, preceded by an epic car chase through a cornfield because....well, because car chases are cool.

Just a fun movie with some familiar touches, even the 1959 classic Rio Bravo. Sit back and enjoy it, welcoming back Aaaahnold.

The Last Stand (2013): ***/****

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