But aside from the story, which seems to be fairly cookie-cutter with the Mexican cartel kingpin who is getting across from Nevada down to the border to get back to his safe land, and with various tropes that can be read from not too far away (given some heft by the fact that Eduardo Noriega cuts a very sharp figure as a madman with a zest for stunt- driving - like a character one might find almost in Rodriguez/Tarantino's Grindhouse, or a hybrid of such characters they write), what is there? How about that the director, Kim Jee-Woon, has a track record from back in South Korea as being a hardcore, awe-inspiring action and genre director, who can make them very, very intense and harrowing (I Saw the Devil), or truly spooky and harrowing in a quieter, more sinister way (Tale of Two Sisters). But what got him the job, I suspect, was The Good, the Bad and the Weird, his wild homage to everything Western - Spaghetti, yes, but good ol' American variety. He must have read the script and said 'I can do this, this is a Western to the bone just in 21st century garb... matter of fact, it's Rio Bravo on steroids!'
Well, that's my suspicion anyway. Think about it - a Sheriff in a ponam town with not many residents at all (and those that do stick around all day won't leave cause of some gunfire - there's a cheese omelette cooking after all at the diner), and has some good deputies, and some others he has to recruit not by his better judgment but by lack of other good officers, and has a Big Bad Motherflipper coming right his way. "I've seen a lot of blood and death. I know what's coming," says the not-quite quipping Arnold. And the first half does build, somewhat decently if predictably, the pieces of the characters, the basic set-ups of who may die (or will) and what betrayals are happening and who knows what (and what, really, Forest Whitaker can do as the Man in Charge in the suit - powerful, but he's not a Schwarzenegger).
It's the second half of the film, as the preparations intensify and then the big attack comes to Sommerton Junction (even the name is out of a Sam Fuller western or something) that the film REALLY picks up steam. And by steam, I mean lots and lots of bullets, sometimes from huge guns that fire way too many bullets. What helps in Jee-Woon's favor in The Last Stand is how he takes the fantasy of all of this to such a degree that you (or I really) can't help but admire how high it ends up going. It will please hardcore action fans, but unlike the only other recent Schwarzenegger films (so to speak) of the Expendables franchise, it doesn't really insult your intelligence either. The villains on display in this flick are not pushovers, and it leads to some impressive action from the performers, from the cameramen, from the bullets themselves which become their own actors. And the final chase through a cornfield, just when you think the film has nothing else to give you, comes back for a surprise set-piece that feels fresh and inventive; we haven't seen something quite like this where it's a cat and mouse chase through such a big space of land, but we know it is just a matter of seconds.
If you've grown up on Schwarzenegger flicks, it's like visiting the old(er) man at the condo, and jogging his memory full-throttle. I don't know if this is just a brief pop-up appearance for the (how do I write this without laughing but he is) veteran action icon, or a third and final career trajectory after years as a bodybuilder/up-and-comer, and superstar. But for now, it'll do, Johnny Knoxville's rambunctious comic-timing not withstanding.