Arnie is back, and it will be interesting as to whether he can still manage to pull the masses back to multiplexes like an uber-magnet, as he did in decades past. With a bouncy script by emerging writer Andrew Knauer, and directed by Korean sensation Kim Ji-woon, Lionsgate is betting heavily that audiences will be nostalgic enough to want to see this mainly conventional action film.
Schwarzenegger plays Sheriff Ray Owens, a former LAPD narcotics detective, who, after botching a special operation, moves away from the big city and settles down in the quiet border town of Sommerton Junction. The role seems to have been written specifically for him, and he uses the opportunity to ham it up on screen, channeling any one of Sergio Leone’s archetypal heroes, such as Clint Eastwood or James Coburn.
The quaint sanctity of the small town doesn’t last long, however. All hell breaks loose when Mexican drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez (played by Spaniard Eduardo Noriega) escapes FBI custody with an agent in tow, and heads strait for the border in an outrageously souped-up Corvette, and the town is the only obstacle between the main baddy and his freedom.
It isn’t long before Cortez meets up with, and is backed up by, a scurrilous outlaw gang led by a man named Burrell, played with bad intentions by Peter Stormare. Meanwhile, Sheriff Owens puts together a motley crew of local supporters including Frank Martinez (played by Brazilian film star Rodrigo Santoro) and Lewis Dinkum (“Jackass” firebrand Johnny Knoxville).
In charge of the region is FBI Special Agent Bannister, played delightfully by Forest Whitaker, who can’t go in and stop the escaped prisoner with guns blazing since a hostage is involved. Instead, he enlists the help of local lawman Owens in order to try and stop the villain before he slips away.
The film lets the separate narratives percolate on medium before turning the heat up and letting them all collide in a hyperkinetic hail of bullets, and some pretty immersive and impressive, albeit by-the-numbers, car chases.
I was a little let down by the lack of style and panache, which is usually exhibited by Hollywood newcomer Kim Ji-woon (“The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” “I Saw the Devil”), especially considering that this is his much-anticipated U.S. debut. I was not surprised, however.
When John Woo first made his U.S. debut with the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle “Hard Target,” audiences were let down when Woo’s usual unique action style, made famous in movies such as “Hard Boiled” and “The Killer,” didn’t show up on the silver screen.
Woo later attributed this to not being allowed by the Hollywood studios to change the way scenes played out on the fly, as he did back in Hong Kong with much success. He had complained that in Tinseltown, there were too many restrictions on changing things, and that any minor item that needed to be addressed had to be approved by a long chain of self-important film brass types. That may be the case here as well.
Although formulaic in nature and tonality, there is something special at play here. Helmed by a less capable director, and without the cheeky performances of the formidable international cast, this film could have slumped into the minor leagues.
However, “Stand” doesn’t take itself too seriously, and hopefully neither will audiences. I went in with low expectations and came out feeling a twinge of nostalgia, but also as though I had been on one fun rollercoaster ride of a film.
Director: Kim Ji-woon
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro
Running Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Ian Kane is a freelance writer, journalist, and filmmaker living in Hollywood, Calif.
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