Friday, January 18, 2013
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "The Last Stand."
"The Last Stand" (opening January 18 throughout San Diego) marks the Hollywood debut of South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon.
Having South Korea's Kim Jee-Woon direct Arnold Schwarzenegger's action film comeback is a little like having the Coen Brothers direct the next Die Hard movie. Sure they can do it but they are seriously overqualified. "The Last Stand" is as simple as they come in terms of plot. A Mexican drug lord (Eduardo Noriega) has escaped from the FBI and is making a run for the border. The only thing standing in his way is Sheriff Arnie in the quiet border town of Somerton. As Arnie says, "That guy's not gonna come through our town without a fight."
The film serves up a fun David versus Goliath showdown with a healthy dose of senior jokes. Arnie's sheriff feels his age and gets up more slowly that he might have in the past after flying through a glass door. But the trio of credited writers -- Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, and George Nolfi -- never kick the story into high gear. They give us fun elements -- like Johnny Knoxville's goofy owner of a "gun museum" -- but fail to exploit any of them. Even Arnie's sheriff gets shortchanged.
Kim handles the action efficiently but doesn't get a chance to flaunt any of the stylish flourishes that make his Korean films ("A Bittersweet Life," "A Tale of Two Sisters," The Good The Bad The Weird," and "I Saw the Devil") so brilliant. He has a good time with his increased budget but pretty much colors within the lines. He does endow the film with a little Korean flavor in the way the film can move easily from comedy to drama and back again.
But "The Last Stand" unintentionally plays like a piece of propaganda for Saturday's scheduled Gun Appreciation Day. If it weren't for a semi-illegal stockade of guns from a gun enthusiast and a pistol packing granny, Arnie's little town in "The Last Stand" would have been obliterated by the drug cartel. The film revels in America's infatuation with guns and celebrates those "individualists" -- be it Knoxville's goofball or the little old lady just protecting her homestead from trespassers -- who just assume it's their god given right to have anything from a handgun to a machine guns to protect themselves. So your ability to enjoy what was intended strictly as a popcorn action film may depend on how sensitive you are to gun violence and calls for new gun policies as we recover from two recent real life mass killings.
"The Last Stand" (rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language) is a respectable American debut for Kim Je-Woon but I hope he doesn't get sucked into the Hollywood mill. He's far too good a filmmaker to make strictly formula films.
Companion viewing: "A Bittersweet Life," "I Saw the Devil," "A Tale of Two Sisters" (do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with Kim's Korean films)
And I just want to leave you with this fabulous retro poster for the film.