He's back. And that can only mean one thing: Bad guys better run, 'cause he's gonna bust some heads. He's certainly not going to let them go, is he?
Once upon a time, Ray Owens was a hero. As a police officer in Los Angeles, he helped to bring down a massive drug-running operation. But success came at a terrible cost: Among Ray's team of eight officers involved in the raid, he was the sole survivor … taking five bullets in the process.
Which is why Ray, approaching retirement age, now serves as the sheriff of sleepy Sommerton, Ariz. It's a border town where about the most egregious illegal activity on any given day might consist of the mayor proudly parking his shiny red Camaro in a fire zone.
So nap-happy is Sommerton, in fact, that two of Ray's deputies, an eager young officer named Jerry Bailey and another old-timer named Mike "Figgy" Figuerola, are as likely to be out at crazy Lewis Dinkum's army surplus store shooting up cattle carcasses for fun as they are walking the beat along the town's two streets. Also in the mix is earnest deputy Sarah Torrance, who's just locked up her ex-boyfriend (a struggling veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) for drunk and disorderly conduct.
But somnolent Sommerton is about to get a wakeup call … and a violent one at that.
It begins when the town's diner doesn't get its milk delivered as usual from a local farmer early one morning. Concerned that maybe the aging owner has perhaps had a heart attack, Ray sends Jerry and Sarah to investigate.
The farmer is dead, but not from natural causes. There's a gunshot wound in his head. And before they know it, Jerry and Sarah find themselves pinned down in a firefight with a well-armed group of paramilitary thugs doing something nefarious on the poor old guy's property.
Meanwhile, across the desert in Las Vegas, the FBI is transporting the murderous drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez to prison to await execution. Until, that is, his armored police transport gets hoisted by a super-magnet to a nearby rooftop, and Cortez is freed. Soon he's racing across the desert in a modified Corvette ZR1, with FBI agent Ellen Richards as his hostage.
We know where Cortez is going, of course.
And we also know that only one thing stands between Cortez and freedom: an aging but determined lawman named Ray Owens. It's his very last opportunity to be a hero.
Ray and his motley crew do absolutely everything they can to stop Cortez and his gang from escaping into Mexico. Sarah and Ray risk their lives to rescue Jerry after he gets shot early on.
After that shoot-out, Sarah confesses to Ray that she was terribly afraid. Then, in one of the film's most touching moments, Ray responds, "I'll tell you a secret. I'm probably more afraid than you are right now. … I've seen enough blood and death. I know what's coming." And since there's more fear and trepidation elsewhere among Ray's troops—especially ol' Figgy, Ray tells them all, "Look, if you guys want to step aside, that's fine. I wouldn't fault you. But I'm not going to let that guy come through our town without a fight." Ray's courage stiffens everyone's spines as they prepare for the final assault.
Cortez eventually offers Ray $20 million to let him escape. Ray responds that his honor is not for sale. And unlike so many films in this genre in which the good guy and the bad guy duel it out to the bitter end, Ray isn't interested in killing Cortez (who's certainly trying to kill him). Instead, he's concerned with arresting the fugitive criminal and ensuring that he faces justice.
There's a line about keeping something "between us and Jesus." Passing, joking reference is made to the Crusades.
Cortez and a woman (who's turned on by his bad-boy exploits) launch into a sexual encounter in his car at high speed. He kisses her, then reaches over suggestively, as if to unbutton her pants—but then undoes her seat belt instead, slows down and shoves her out the door. Cortez's chief lieutenant leers at a young waitress and makes lewd comments about her backside. Sarah and Frank kiss.
Once the action gets underway in earnest, the body count begins to quickly ratchet up. During the siege of the armored vehicle from which Cortez is freed, a woman on top of the crane-hoisted magnet mows down police officers with a machine gun. Inside the vehicle, Cortez kills two officers with his bare hands and feet. Once he's free, he corners an FBI agent he says has a pregnant wife at home before putting a gun to his head and brutally executing him.
We see several more head-shot kills, complete with blood spatter and gore. Ray plunges from a roof onto an assailant below, shooting him in the head and using the man's body as a makeshift "cushion" as he plunges through an awning to the ground. Another man is shot first in the ear, then again in the head at point-blank range. Several of Ray's team members get shot, and Sarah tries to stop the blood flow from a gushing wound in one of them.
Crashing through a police barricade, Cortez's squad uses machine guns to cut down perhaps a dozen police officers. Cortez takes out two pursuing police SUVs full of SWAT agents with some agile moves behind the wheel of the Corvette. Rocket-propelled grenades destroy two vehicles. An unlikely chase scene involves the mayor's Camaro and Cortez's Corvette racing through a cornfield and ramming a combine.
Dinkum's bus-mounted supergun has no trouble taking out a row of bad guys. Dinkum fires a flare gun at a man wearing a belt of bullets—ammunition that starts cooking off when he's hit, then explodes, cutting his torso in half and hurtling body parts into the air. We watch as a limb of some sort lands on Figgy, who's been wounded and trapped in the war zone. (It's a scene that's played for humor, not horror.) An elderly woman shoots a bad guy in the back, killing him.
Ray's mano a mano melee with Cortez involves smashing fists, chokeholds, body slams onto a steel bridge, and multiple slashes from a knife. Both men, at some point, end up with a knife bloodily embedded in a leg. Jerry fires an enormous pistol, which kicks back into his face and bloodies his nose. Dinkums fells a power pole with a chain saw, riding it down as it hits a truck.
Crude or Profane Language
About 25 f-words. Thirty or so s-words. Milder profanities include "a‑‑," "h-ll" (which pops up more than a dozen times), "b‑‑ch" and "b‑‑tard." Ray labels the mayor a "shmuck" twice. A guy is derided for having his "d‑‑k in his hand." God's name is abused seven or eight times (once or twice paired with "d‑‑n"), while Jesus' name is misused five or six times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Hard drugs are referred to, mostly in a criminal context. People drink beer.
Other Negative Elements
Cortez drives recklessly at ridiculous speeds throughout the film, including going 197 mph with his lights off. (His car is equipped with an infrared system.) An FBI agent initially mocks Ray's determination to capture Cortez. Another agent turns out to be Cortez's mole. Cortez makes violent threats and brags about his past killings.
We need to look at Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest actioner—his first major starring role in a film since his stint as California governor—from two perspectives. First, in relationship to where it stands compared to similar R-rated action fare these days. And second, in relationship to a culture that's once again asking questions about onscreen violence after high-casualty shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.
With regard to the first perspective, The Last Stand is ahbsolutely (said with Schwarzenegger's signature Austrian accent) what you would expect. It's a straight-up slam-bam action movie about an aging icon trying to take down a nefarious drug lord. Along the way, we get no shortage of shattered skulls or fragmenting f-bombs. But the feel-good, good-triumphs-over-evil ending paired with the law-and-order commitment of its hero makes it tempting to give those content concerns a pass. After all, we want to see the bad guys get what's coming to them, right? Do a few bad words and battered brains along the way really matter? Does it mean anything if the audience cracks up when another baddie gets blown to smithereens? It's just Hollywood being Hollywood, like I heard somebody say while walking out of the theater.
That, essentially, is the argument Schwarzenegger himself has been making in interviews about the film. Speaking about the Newtown killings, Schwarzenegger recently told Fox News, "It is such a horrific tragedy, but we have to separate out what is in the movies—which is pure entertainment—and what is out there in reality. When you have a tragedy like that, and you lose so many lives, I think you owe it to society to do everything you can and look at everything—dealing with mental health, parenting in America, are the schools safe, and do we have the right safety features in place, and should we look at gun laws again, and look if there are any loopholes that can be closed."
Then he added, "It is a very complex issue. We are a democracy, and we can't just go out when you see someone acting strange and take them off the street and make them disappear. But do we have things in place to deal with that? We have to look at all those things. We owe it to our children and our society."
Ahnold is right—to a point. Violence in our society is a complex issue. And we do owe it to our children and society to evaluate every possible contributing influence. But the list of complexities deserving evaluation includes the influence of movies like this one, graphically violent fare that Schwarzenegger suggests should get an uncritical pass because it's just "pure entertainment."