The Last Stand

Arnie’s past his prime, writes PIERS RILEY-SMITH.

Arnie kim ji woon piers riley-smith zero dark thirty

Action films usually need to have a simple plot. This does. A drug baron, having broken out of custody, is now speeding towards the Mexican border. The FBI can’t stop him, the SWAT teams can’t stop him, and all Forest Whitaker’s character can do is scowl at a screen as his best laid plans are ruined by some ingenious crane work. All that stands in the way of freedom is one old sheriff and his rag tag bunch of eccentrics and losers. Except that sheriff is no ordinary sheriff. Oh no: back from the dead (at least politically), Arnie himself has returned to save the day.

The problem with this film is it assumes that it can rely on Arnold Schwarzenegger. Understandably, perhaps – he is one of the greats. But he’s also past his prime. An Arnie film in the old days could just about get away with not having a great plot or script, but Arnie’s older now, and the lack shows. If the plot consisted purely of the modern day Alamo showdown with which it finally culminates, it would probably be worth the ticket price. But in an hour and forty seven minute film, the showdown only occupies the last twenty minutes. So what fills the rest of the time?

A reasonably tame breakout sequence. A bit of back-story for Arnie, mostly involving him walking around the town complaining about how old he is – just to emphasise to everyone watching that the humour lies in the fact that he a pensioner. And lots and lots of extended, boring sequences that involve a fast car being driven at fast speeds down a seemingly never-ending road. It’s simple, but not particularly effective.

All the excitement and heart of Kim Ji-woon’s previous films are missing from his first foray into American cinema. Its main weakness is that it feels like both the director and actors did this as a favour to Arnie. Forest Whitaker is an Academy Award winning actor, but spends the entire film looking grumpy by a phone, or grumpy in an office, or grumpy on a plane. The script feels like it was written by someone who came up with the obligatory Arnie one-liner first, and constructed the script around it afterwards. Whoever thought the line, “Death is waiting for you in the kitchen when you get up in the middle of the night for a glass of milk” was profound needs to read some Derrida.

What lifts this film out of the one star doldrums are those last 20 minutes. They’re not fantastic, but they least live up to the actual idea of the film and provide action, Arnie, and a couple of comedy killings. But it’s not enough to make the previous hour and a half worth it. The film is not clever enough to be interesting, and not violent enough to be a good action film – so if you’re looking for a Schwarzenegger fix, this won’t do the trick. You’d be better off revisiting one of his classics.