Anyone Can Write A Screenplay

In the immediate afterglow of “The Last Stand,” the film already seems like an urban legend. It’s the kind of event that friends whisper about, everyone knowing the yarn by heart but no one believing it. “The Last Stand” is that stranger pooping on a crowded subway train, leaving all passersby in complete incredulity. Some laugh. Some cry. Some run screaming into the night. But few who become entangled in the unholy mess that is “The Last Stand” will ever forget it. It’s a film of mythic incompetence, the most uproariously ill-conceived studio picture since Nicolas Cage’s “Wicker Man” remake. And it almost demands to be seen.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to leading man status sees him playing a small-time Sheriff of a sleepy Arizona border town, Summerton Junction. He’s mostly surrounded by dolts, including the second-in-command Officer Figuerola (Luis Guzmán) and arms-enthusiast Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville, apparently reprising his role from “The Ringer”). When some shady characters show up in Summerton (led by character actor Peter Stormare, sporting a laughable southern accent), it’s obvious where the film is going. Except, our assumptions of logical, efficient storytelling are entirely off base.

The picture abruptly veers toward incoherence with a 20-minute detour into crime-saga territory. An FBI agent, John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), is chasing an escaped drug kingpin, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriego, Pau Gasol doppelganger), whose 1000 horsepower Chevy can “outrun helicopters,” except when it’s unmistakably followed by a helicopter for a significant portion of the film. Whitaker’s earnestness in the midst of this nonsense is almost endearing, until his character is burdened with putting two and two together (to make five) – Cortez sent men to Summerton to build a bridge over a canyon (in just one night) for an easy exit into Mexico! Of course!

This is all directed with the subtlety of a sledgehammer by Jee-woon Kim, the Korean virtuoso in his first American production. Yet, the unintelligible action is the least of the film’s issues. Disorienting visuals don’t stand out as much in the face of wrongheaded character development and hemorrhoid-inducing dialogue. Every beat in the screenplay is so hilariously backwards that when Whitaker shouts, “It’s a psychopath in a Batmobile!” it doesn’t seem particularly out of place. The gaggle of screenwriters involved in this mess tells a story of its own. A few games of Mad-Libs by a group of second-graders would have produced a narrative at least as coherent as the one on display here. As for the cinematography – a two hour fingerpainting documentary would have been preferable.

When the picture strives for humor, it’s uniformly banal and humorless. But in its frequent moments of misplaced sincerity, it’s a riot. I found myself guffawing many times, never when I was supposed to.

Perhaps the strangest feature of “The Last Stand” is that it appears to have been entirely bankrolled by Chevrolet. Every vehicle in the film – and the entire picture is a parade of cars – is a Chevy. In fact, the idea of car company bigwigs having creative control over a Hollywood production is the only explanation that makes any sense. If I were to write a book called “The Last Stand As An Artistic Statement,” it would be a hard cover scratch-n-sniff featuring lots of pictures of dumpsters on hot summer days. Nothing in the film suggests that any of the cast or crew have ever been involved in anything creative before. The first film ever written, directed, and acted by accountants! But perhaps that’s what makes the piece so fascinating.

Should you see “The Last Stand?” It’s a simple question that can only be answered by more questions. Do you have a soft spot for wondrously terrible cinema? Can you handle a film that requires Sisyphean feats of its audience, requiring each viewer to bear the burden of an unrelenting boulder of unintelligible imbecility? In fact, “The Last Stand” might be a work of historical importance. It could be the first film from which a 2-hour video of an audience watching it would possess more artistic and narrative merit than the film itself. So, at the very least, audiences should enjoy themselves, if not the film. And forgive me for using the word “film” so loosely.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: January 18, 2013
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Jee-woon Kim
Screenwriter: Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, George Nolfi
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford, Genesis Rodriguez, Daniel Henney, John Patrick Amedori
MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, and language)