Despite some weaknesses, ‘Last Stand’ is fun

By Gary Clift

Knowing my friend has a taste for action movies, I invited him to go along to see “The Last Stand.” He said no thanks, that the movie had Johnny Knoxville in it.

But it also stars Arnold Schwarzenegger. The supporting cast includes Forest Whitaker, Harry Dean Stanton, and Luis Guzman. So there’s good and bad in the casting. And Kim Jee-Woon’s new and absolutely Hollywood film features several other trade-offs.

The plot is silly. The dialog is fairly sharp. “Death is waiting for you when you go to the kitchen for a glass of milk,” the villain warns his attractive FBI agent hostage. “I have seen enough blood and death to know what is coming,” says the Sheriff (Schwarzenegger) in the run up to the big clash. “Does this mean I’m forgiven?” asks the young beau after a courageous act, and the leggy female deputy answers, “Probably.”

Each of these lines brought audible reactions from the Friday night, 7:15 crowd. The Sheriff’s remark over the telephone to the lead FBI agent (Whitaker) drew a few yelps of sympathetic recognition: “I don’t know you and I don’t answer to you.”

The action scenes work pretty well. They are imaginative and well-paced. The comedy, though, is dominated by lead Jackass Knoxville, and it isn’t very funny. He wears two hats in the film, an Elmer Fudd with woolly ear flaps (the action takes place in Arizona) and a conquistador’s helmet. That’s the level of the comedy. Oh, and a little old lady shoots and kills one of the town invaders as he ambles through her store. Remember when having old or very young people curse was a stock movie comedy device?

Generally speaking, though, my buddy made a mistake by refusing to see “The Last Stand.” On balance it is a lot more fun than it is annoying. And I think we have to thank Schwarzenegger, who gives us a character with substantial gravity, for much of the success of the movie.

He plays Ray, Sheriff in a little town on the Mexican boarder. Everybody’s left for a big football game, so he wants to take a day off. But he is awakened by an early morning call suggesting there may be something wrong with farmer Parsons (Stanton).

Well, Parsons has been killed by a squad of mercenaries working for the leader of a drug cartel. The leader, Frank, is being moved by his jailers along the roads of Las Vegas when employees of his spring him, using an industrial magnet on a crane to lift the transport van out of a protective cortege. Frank drives a remarkably fast Corvette away from topless town with a pretty FBI agent hostage.

He is headed to Ray’s town and to the Parson’s farm, where his para-military guys have built a temporary bridge across the canon that forms the international border. The feds warn Ray, who immediately loses one of his three deputies to fire from the thugs at the farm. He then deputizes a prisoner, the beau in love with the brunette deputy, and Knoxville’s character, a gun nut who can supply the good guys with a working Vickers machine gun.

So unlike Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” Ray has some help in the shoot-out in his deserted western town. But will it be enough to stop the platoon of bridge-building crooks and the fast driving Frank? After a well-managed defense of the town passage, the movie goes on to an imaginative chase scene and then the unraveling one would expect from this sort of professional product.

Despite some weaknesses, then, “The Last Stand” is actually quite a bit of fun to watch. Sorry, buddy. You’ll have to go on your own to see this and pay your own admission.

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