LOOK, I KNOW, it's January. Reviewing a movie released in January is like trying to write a restaurant review about a package of Skittles. January is the Spanx under which movie studios hide their most embarrassing, flabby attempts at profit. You might as well have to sign a terms and conditions agreement on the way in, promising not to expect much or think about the film beyond something to occasionally grunt at while you hork down a paint bucket of cola. But fine, I like dumb things. Pass me the tack hammer and hit me with your finest catchphrase.
Lionsgate did their best to build buzz around The Last Stand like it was a real movie, hiring culty Korean director Kim Jee-woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird) and sending Arnold Schwarzenegger on a goodwill tour that included a Reddit AMA and tank rides for Los Angeles film writers at a junket. But nothing Lionsgate can do will paper over the giant flashing light that says "PAYCHECK! PAYCHECK! PAYCHECK!" once the movie begins. The Last Stand plays like a commercial for a videogame meets a commercial for a car meets a trailer for "Arnold Schwarzenegger: Movie Star." It's both too dumb and not dumb enough.
The boilerplate plot finds Arnold as the sheriff of a small town on the Mexican border where everyone's either a hot chick, wacky comedy relief, or a stock photo of a secondary character who's about to die. There's an escaped drug lord "who used to be a racecar driver in Sinaloa" speeding toward them in a stolen Corvette ZR1, chosen because "it's faster than any helicopter" and is basically what would happen if Jesus and Ares the God of War had a baby that died and was reincarnated as a muscle car, according to the film. Or, as Forest Whitaker, playing the most inept FBI man alive, calls it, "I've got a psychopath in a Batmobile."
Kim's treatment of the material is admirably brash, and there are moments of brilliance—like every time henchman Peter Stormare is onscreen, snorting through dialogue in some kind of bizarrely intriguing Teutonic Yosemite Sam accent, or a nice sequence where Johnny Knoxville explodes a bad guy with a flare gun. But most of the time, Kim's weirdness is only just present enough to be confusing, like the town's ex-Marine ne'er-do-well, who has a never-explained European accent and "Semper Fi" tattooed on his forearm in Papyrus font (tattoo artist was a big Avatar fan, maybe?). It's all not quite dumb enough to be interesting or funny.
Arnold is much more wooden than you remember (screen rust, maybe?), but he's always had a goofy presence that transcends traditional notions of "acting." Stormare is fun and Luis Guzmán is Luis Guzmán, but Jaimie Alexander plays her dopey role as the lady sheriff as if it's meant to be taken seriously, which it's not. Worse, the action sequences play out in claustrophobic, too-close shots that give you no sense of spatial awareness, only blur and outcome.
All in all, The Last Stand reminds me of Metallica's songwriting process in Some Kind of Monster—where they'd just kind of all play loud at the same time and occasionally stumble upon an okay-sounding bit that they'd then record. It's nice to have Arnold back, but The Last Stand is kind of like the St. Anger of Arnold movies.