Curiously nerdy posts.
This weekend, I headed off to my local cinema to see Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s return to making movies with The Last Stand.
I’ve always been a fan of Ah-nuld moreso than other action movie stars. I think this is for a variety of reasons. His infamous accent, which ruins his credibility for most of the roles he’s ever played, but at the same time makes his voice iconic and unique. The fact that for most of his career, he has looked like a real life action figure, a manly man for dudes to have man crushes over. There’s also the fact that unlike most of the other leading men of his day, he also seemed much more willing to star in sci-fi styled offerings, instead of just the typical faux military/cop action movies that ruled the 80s and part of the 90s.
But I think my personal reason for him being my favorite is a trademark of his, one that hasn’t been utilized to its full potential before or since: the action movie one-liner. Whether he’s throwing an impossibly large knife into a random bad guy in Predator and telling him to “Stick around”, or telling Bennett to “Let off some steam” after impaling him with a pipe, Arnold has always shown a penchant for making gory deaths hilarious.
That’s a unique talent, I think. The ability to take something as horrid as death, and making it into something light. I appreciate that, because so many action movies just kill people like life is worth a penny a pound, without so much as a half second to ponder just what they’re trying to say with that. This is why I think action movies, by and large, are best when they’re funny. Movies where dozens of people die to machine guns and pistols with infinite bullets are hard to take seriously. And Arnold is in on the joke. More often than not as I’ve travelled through his film career, it’s felt like he’s had to resist the urge to look directly into the camera and wink, as if to say “this is all silly, but I hope you’re having as much fun as I am”.
So, how was his triumphant return to the big screen?
A mixed bag. Really, at its best you have a movie that seems to be two movies that were stitched together at key points, but don’t seem overly happy to be paired together.
On one end, you have Arnold doing his best impression of Andy Griffith, walking the streets of a small town in Arizona that reminds you of all the small towns in America rolled into one pile of red dust. Along the way you meet his two quirky deputies, the old guys who eat at the same diner and order the same omelette (with extra cheddar) every day, and Johnny Knoxville as every weird redneck you’ve ever met rolled into one. Except with more awesome fashion sense than normal. It all plays out like a cartoon, with Arnold as the only character who seems to be sane. And it’s fun to watch, if a little odd.
Still, gotta love the hat.
And then there’s the other side, that demands to be treated as a serious thriller. You have Forrest Whittaker, as usual, delivering a performance that does everything right as a FBI agent who just wants to move the villain, a notorious Mexican cartel kingpin, to a federal death row. You have an agent on the inside betray his trust, and let the villain escape in a mad race to get to the border and out of his jurisdiction. You have hostages, murder, crazy car chases, and the kind of criminal plot that Batman himself would have trouble dealing with.
And then you swing back to Arnold, who is content to just stay in his action movie kind of role, seemingly unaware that there is a high octane thriller movie barrelling down the highway in a Corvette ZR-1, eager to suddenly be a part of the movie he’s making. You find out that his town is probably going to be the place that the bad guy needs to drive through to escape to Mexico, and in a series of events, he gets a black eye from dealing with trained killers that he and his deputies are woefully outmatched by, but he still refuses to give in and allow them free reign of “his town”. Desperate and outgunned, he recruits a few town misfits and deputizes them to help him fight his private war. Seven Samurai, this is not, but you can see what cliches this movie has tapped into. The meaning of the title becomes very blunt, and very obvious.
Toward the climax of the movie, these two movies seem to collide, and I braced myself for an absolute mess. What’d I get instead? A very cool, very intense shootout that was marked both by crazy, over the top stunts (Luis Guzman surviving a car getting blown up beside him without so much as a scratch), and well grounded logical pieces of action (Arnold crashing through the diner window, and getting pieces of glass stuck into him when he lands). At no point does the movie decide to actually stop and finally make a decision on whether it wants to be a thriller, or a silly action film, but somehow, the action is done so interestingly that it doesn’t seem to matter as much.
But regardless, it comes away tasting like a peanut butter and bleu cheese sandwich – both really good flavors, but not really the best of things to cram together in one bite. The end of the movie, when you see Forrest Whitaker’s character in the same frame as Arnold, it’s almost jarring, and you have to remind yourself that they were involved in the same plot, since at no point did their paths cross before, other than two phone calls.
It’s a movie that really should’ve reached for the jelly instead.
Final rating: **
As much as it pains me to admit it, Arnold’s return is kind of disappointing. Not because of him, but because of some truly strange choices in direction. This movie looks to be a box office bomb, but I think that’s because people wanted an action movie, and got a hybrid crime drama instead. Pick a better project next time, Ah-nuld. Please. I want another silly cheesy action movie before you walk away.
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