The Last Stand
There’s a time and place for everything. Bloody videogame-style shootouts have their place in an action movie that is clearly totally divorced from reality like The Last Stand. They do not belong in a movie like the recently released Gangster Squad that makes pretensions of being historically accurate.
This movie is a silly story of good guys, led by Arnold Schwarzenegger versus one bad guy, Eduardo Noriega, who plays a drug kingpin. Just because it’s silly, however, does not mean that it is not entertaining, because it is. The first half contains a spectacular escape, and a set up where we get to know Arnold and Forest Whitaker and Johnny Knoxville, and the other members of the cast. The second half, and I do mean at least 45 minutes, is the shoot out.
While you certainly can’t envision Schwarzenegger playing Shakespeare, what he does have is charm. He exhibits that here in spades with a joke-laden script by Andrew Knauer, rewritten by Jeffrey Nachmanoff. Korean action director Kim Ji-woon does not speak a word of English, but that did not seem to affect his ability to direct Schwarzenegger and the rest. He brought along his director of photography, Kim Ji-yong, who adds some fine car chases (how can one make a movie like this without car chases?) and some interesting camera angles. However, a movie like this really gets its mojo from the music that puts the viewer in the right frame of mind, and this music, by Mowg, is exceptional.
The film starts with a short introduction by Arnold talking directly to the audience and telling us that he said he’d be back, and he is. Despite some graphic violence, this is entertaining.
When author Donald Westlake wrote his first book about Parker (Jason Statham) in 1962, being a brutal killer, he died at the end of the book. But Westlake’s editor saw something in the character and convinced Westlake to spare Parker’s life. Good thing, because Parker lived a long life in 24 novels written by Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark.
Here, producer/director Taylor Hackford, who won an Oscar® for Ray (2004), picked the right actor to play Parker, even though Parker is described as 6-5, 240 and Statham is only 5-9. The difference between Statham and Tom Cruise who was horribly miscast as 6-5, 240 Jack Reacher, is that Statham looks like a tough guy, studied martial arts (Wing Chun kung fu, karate, and kickboxing), and has established a reputation as an action hero. Consistent therewith, he does most of his own stunts in this film as he has in the past.
In this one, Parker becomes a one-man wrecking crew as he wreaks vengeance on a gang of thieves who double-crossed him. What he goes through involves such superhuman punishment that it does take something away from the film. It’s one thing to do his own stunts, but some of the things he survives and from which he basically just walks away are ridiculous. When he jumped out of a car speeding down a highway, I verbally grunted at the implausibility of it all. Movies really hurt themselves when they have such violent scenes from which heroes emerge virtually unscathed. When people can be stabbed, shot, and jump out of speeding cars and jump up to continue almost as if nothing happened to them, it has the undesirable effect of immunizing viewers to the consequences of violence. As such, this kind of graphic violence is deplorable.
Hackford keeps up the pace admirably well, even though the movie is a half hour too long. Much of the pace is destroyed by the appearance of Jennifer Lopez as a realtor wannabe who gets involved with Parker’s quest in a way that strains credulity to the breaking point. I downgraded the film due mainly to the presence of Lopez and how it almost totally destroyed the pace of the film. In one cringe-worthy scene she strips down to her underwear. If she was ever considered a sex symbol those days are gone.
Set in Palm Beach, the film has fine cinematography (James Michael Muro) and some stunts that, while ludicrous, are worth seeing. Nick Nolte, who seems to be showing up in almost every movie filmed recently, gives a subdued but effective performance as the father of Parker’s girlfriend.