Friday, January 18, 2013

Questionable Accents: The Last Stand

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has his fans. I mean, he must! You don't go from being one of the top action stars of the 1980s, to becoming governor of the nation's third largest state if you DON'T have fans. I've just never been one of them. No matter how much I'd try, and no matter how good the movies he's in might be, (and really, that kind of begins and ends with the first two Terminator movies, right?), I just could never get past the fact that Arnold is a terrible actor with an accent that isn't doing him any favors.

So, perhaps there are people out there who are anxiously awaiting the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger, action star, and they'll rush out and make The Last Stand, Arnold's first leading role since the end of his governator reign, a number one hit. But for me, well, this is the kind of movie that I wouldn't bother to watch even if it was on Netflix Instant, I had gone through my entire queue, and was clamoring for something, anything to watch next.

Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of a small border town in Arizona called Sommerton Junction. He was once a cop in Los Angeles, but after a bad drug raid left many of his fellow officers dead, he decided to leave the big city behind and settle for podunk sheriffhood in the kind of place where the only diner in town gets its milk delivered from a local farmer every morning before the sun comes up. (Are there even dairy farms in Arizona?!)

The quiet town gets even quieter when almost everyone leaves for some big local sports team championship somewhere, and Ray is looking forward to some quiet days off...until he notices some suspicious truckers in the diner, and decides to look into their legitimacy.

I'd be suspicious of them too, because one of them has an accent that defies explanation. He's played by Swedish actor Peter Stormare, and I suspect he's trying to do some kind of Southern twang, but man alive, does he fail miserably at it. 

Turns out Ray had reason to be suspicious. Those truckers are actually there to help an escaped drug lord cross the border into Mexico via a bridge over a canyon separating the countries.

The drug lord is played by Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega, (which means another slightly off kilter accent, as he's playing Mexican), and he spends the majority of the movie behind the wheel of a Corvette ZR1, a car I know the name of because it's said about 25 times in the movie. As he races from his escape point in Las Vegas to the town of Sommerton Junction, hostage in tow, he's being pursued by a pissed off FBI agent, played by Forest Whitaker. (His accent is fine.)

Back in Sommerton, Ray must pull together a motley band of deputies to help stop the drug lord from making it to Mexico. These include Johnny Knoxville, as a local gun nut with a veritable arsenal of firepower whom Ray deputizes; Luiz Guzman, (whose presence reminded me that P.T. Anderson should never have stopped using him in movies), as one of Ray's legitimate deputies; Jamie Alexander as an impossibly pretty deputy, (who never puts her long hair up, a move I will never buy since putting my hair up is the first thing I do when I get home, let alone when I'm planning on shooting people with a sniper rifle from a rooftop; shit gets in the way!); Zach Gilford, as another deputy; and finally, Rodrigo Santoro as the pretty deputy's ex-boyfriend, who begins the movie behind bars, but also ends up deputized. He's another one with an unexplainable accent, as he's a Brazilian actor playing, I assume, Mexican-American, but sounds vaguely French?!

And ultimately, there's no real explanation for Schwarzenegger's accent either, aside from one line in which he laments the fact that the evil drug lord he's fighting gives "us immigrants a bad name." Which just makes all the other attempts at accents other than the actors' actual accents just weird. When you've got an Austrian inexplicably the sheriff of a Arizona town, why bother with any other attempt at vocal realism?

And indeed, the movie requires a huge amount of suspension of disbelief, especially since the whole 200 mile high-speed chase after the drug lord could have been easily stopped after about 30 minutes with the mere placement of some tire spikes. But I guess this movie takes place during the United States' famous Tire Spikes Shortage of 2013.

Director Kim Ji-woon has made a name for himself in his native Korea for his versatility in crossing movie genres. The Last Stand is his first American film, and I will give him props for a few well-staged action sequences, including a nice bit that follows a rooftop escape via zipline onto an opposing rooftop, then down to the street below, and on to a foot chase.

But the best directing in the world just can't save a film with a script that has Arnold complaining twice that he is, basically, too old for this shit; a Corvette that can cause an SUV to flip over three times just by stopping in front of it; and a chase between two very low sports cars through a gigantic corn field with impossibly high stalks. (Are there even corn fields in Arizona??)

Finally, with all the recent debate and controversy surrounding gun control, this movie will do nothing to help Hollywood's argument that they play no real part in the country's love affair with heavy fire arms, as about 60 minutes of the film is devoted to watching people admire guns, shoot guns, and get shot by guns. America, fuck yeah!

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