Long before his creaky, inanimate cameo in The Expendables 2, any fool could have told Arnold Schwarzenegger, 65, that he’d make a poor living monument to himself. Age would rob him of the qualities that once gave him star power. The only way to enjoy an authentic bit of Austrian oak nostalgia would be to watch his old movies. If you’re an actor the onset of decrepitude needn’t mark the end of your career. A thesp may adapt; take on different types of role – parts that embrace their advancing years. Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood are examples of big box office draws that matured with their bodies and found new ways to stay in the game. Schwarzenegger’s problem is that he was sold not on his personality or range, both being largely non-existent, but on his build.
He was a super-human colossus whose appeal lay in his ability to fell enemies that would defeat the life sized. The pleasure of “Arnie” came in watching him weald weapons larger than an average man: his imposing physicality and limited emotional range became curious assets. Even his name suggested he was the biggest thing on the bill. It seemed designed to headline movie posters.
The Last Stand heralds the lunk’s return to the movie firmament after ten years in politics’ darklands. The hope it represents, for both Schwarzenegger and his agent, is that the big man’s career has a self-deprecating afterlife; that a script that tips its hat to his pensionable status will mitigate against the doubts of an audience who suspect he really *is too old for this shit; that arthritic or no, crowds still want to see him indiscriminately murder ne’er-do-wells. Such hopes aren’t entirely unfounded; the nietzschean pinup was a hoot throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s and old affections die hard, but the flame that burns twice brightly lasts half as long and what’s clear from Kim Jee-Woon’s film is that the life and vitality that once greased those famous muscles has all but dried up.
Schwarzenegger plays a small town sheriff and one time émigré, improbably named Ray Owens, who’s forced to come between Eduardo Noriega’s Mexican drug cartel boss and freedom when the latter successfully evades the FBI and makes a run for the border, a route that will take him through Arnie’s post code. As Noriega spends most of the running time driving toward the third act, his associates are deposited in the locale ahead of time, giving our man and his ragbag of unpromising townsfolk something to shoot at. An inauspicious setup to be sure – the bastard child of Die Hard and Hot Fuzz (and with fewer jokes than either), but with tight direction, vivid characters and a leading man you could believe in, some alchemy might have been wrought. Instead the staging is uninspired, the human furniture wooden and the talismanic hero, ossified. The last stand? Poor Arnie looks as though he can barely stand.
If his lack of physical dexterity is a problem, though one that Jee-Woon admirably tries to circumvent, having the wizened leviathan spend as much of the movie in a sedentary position as possible, the kicker is that age has withered the part of Schwarzenegger’s brain that studiously learned the actor’s craft throughout the 1980s. He delivers his clutch of lines like a cyborg with a dying battery. Fans will point to his comeback’s youth, pleading for time for the geriatric killing machine to rediscover his rhythm but one wonders how many movies the former Mr Universe truly has left in him when this one appears to have been such a herculean effort. Indeed it was once said that nobody gives Schwarzenegger a raw deal; nobody it seems, but the great man himself.