Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Arnie's failed comeback movie

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Film blogger and avowed Arnie fan Dominic Corry analyses why the Austrian Oak's latest movie The Last Stand flopped at US cinemas and is set for the indignity of a straight-to-DVD release in New Zealand.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand.

I've chronicled my deep love and respect for Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger many times in this space, so it shouldn't surprise anyone who's been paying attention that my heart broke a little when news emerged that The Last Stand, which features Arnie's first leading role since taking a break from movies to puruse political ambitions, would be bypassing cinemas and debuting on DVD in New Zealand.

As a proud member of a large Arnie-revering generation of (not-so) young men, I know I'm not alone in feeling this way, but it's little relief.

I've been very anxiously awaiting Arnold's return to movies ever since the political sidebar signalled its end. His frankly embarrassing extended cameo in last year's The Expendables 2 was well-received in monetary terms, but it was a role well-beneath what I come to expect from this former titan of the silver screen.

My hopes for Arnie's cinematic dignity being re-instated shifted to The Last Stand, an odd-sounding project for the former Terminator in that it concerns an ageing border-town Sheriff taking on a drug lord. Then the film plopped at the American box office and its New Zealand theatrical fate was sealed.

The final indignity came when the local DVD cover was revealed to give equal standing to co-star Johnny Knoxville - at best the film's eighth most important character - in a depressing and misguided bid to make the film appear more palatable to a home audience. Having come of age in a time when all a movie poster needed was the Austrian Oak's surname to make it a must see, this perturbed me to no end.

But I needen't have worried, as is often the case, the American cinema-going public got it very wrong: The Last Stand is freaking awesome, and a beautiful return to action leading-man status for Arnold.

I'll admit to being weary of the concept - it didn't seem wise for Arnie to go for such an 'everyman' role for his leading man comeback, especially as his scenes in The Expendables 2 suggested he'd completely forgotten any acting skills he may have acquired over the years. And low-key was never his strong point to begin with.

But watching The Last Stand, I soon realised that Arnie is now in Charles Bronson phase of his career. Not the Death Wish Charles Bronson, but the Charles Bronson who informed numerous 70s action films by playing stoic older men who managed to project both a hard-bitten weariness and a subtle senstitivity. The Last Stand is Arnie's Charles Bronson role. He's graduated to this sort of thing now, and he pulls it off with gusto.

His character, Ray, can believably throw-down when it counts, but he's a far-cry from the supermen Arnie used to play. I didn't think I would like seeing that, but I could't resist the old lug's charms here.

The Last Stand feels old school in other ways. There's a pulpy directness to the concept that recalls some of Walter Hill's better movies.

Modern action cinema is increasingly reliant on global destruction as a driving motivation, but The Last Stand makes an excellent case for action films where the epicness comes from the collision of outsized characters, rather than tectonic plates.

Plus the supporting cast is really solid, Johnny Knoxville not withstanding.

Cortez, the Pablo Escobar-like figure who's high-speed escape to Mexico drives the story, is played with an unnerving stare by Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega, probably best known to English-speaking audiences from Alejandro Amenabar's Open Your Eyes, which was remade as Vanilla Sky, or Guillermo Del Toro's masterful 2001 fantasy The Devil's Backbone.

Ubiquitous Swedish character actor Peter Stormare, who is now legally required to be in all movies, plays his reliably ruthless number two. Then there's the giant pile of well-trained mercenaries literally clearing a path which Cortez will use to drive his super-charged Corvette down to freedom in Mexico via Ray's town. And get this: Cortez also happens to be a gifted profesional race car driver who's been competing in the South American circuit under a fake name!

It's a plot straight out of a lesser Knight Rider episode, but it comes together beautifully. The high-octane car chase scenes show the Fast and Furious movies for the video game-esque CGI-fests that they are - this film throws down the car-action gauntlet for George Miller's upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road.

In fact, all the action in the film is really impressive. South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon (A Tale of Two Sisters; The Good, The Bad, The Weird), making his English-language debut, livens up familiar tropes with punchy, nimble camerawork and a sense of grandeur imported from the Western genre.

Beyond Stormare and Noriega, The Last Stand benefits from Forest Whitakker doing an even angrier version of Yaphet Kotto's FBI character from Midnight Run; Thor's Jamie Alexander and good ol' Luis Guzman as a couple of loyal deputies; and Harry Dean freaking Stanton as an ornery farmer.

Aspects of the film also reminded me of one of my favourite '90s films, One False Move, the Billy Bob Thornton-scripted action drama starring Bill Paxton as a rural cop excited by the prospect of some real bad guys finally coming to his sleepy small town.

The Last Stand has heartily reinvigorated my faith in Arnold Schwarzenegger's post-politics acting career, box office failure or not. I would've loved to have seen it on the big screen and its frankly criminal that I didn't get the chance to. I know New Zealand is overflowing with deep blue Arnie fans, and we would've surely helped it turn a profit in cinemas here.

Arnie will next be seen on the big screen (hopefully!) playing second banana to Sly Stallone (a notion I'll never get used to) in Escape Plan; followed by David Ayer's intriguing-sounding thriller Breacher.

He's announced plans to return to his two most iconic franchises - Conan and The Terminator, although considering Arnie's advanced years, quite how that second one is going to work is anybody's guess.

After coming to appreciate what Arnie brought to his atypical role in The Last Stand, I am now much more interested in the film he apparently wants to make next, domestic zombie drama Maggie, in which he plays a man who's daughter turns into a zombie.

If he can recapture any of the sublime father/daughter chemistry he essayed with scene partner Alyssa Milano in 1985's Commando, I'm onboard.

In the mean time, please check out The Last Stand, it's a welcome return to form for my pal Arnie, and a fun reminder that the planet doesn't need to be in peril to make a kick-ass action movie.

Seen The Last Stand? Thoughts? Would you have gone to see it on the big screen? Comment Below!

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