I celebrated Inauguration Day in a rather contrarian manner: I went, this evening, to see a movie that has a cheerfully positive take on America’s love affair with guns. (Or — to use the puckish phrase Mark Steyn coined a few weeks ago, to satirize the conventional liberal view: “America’s gun-nut gun culture of gun-crazed gun kooks.”) The movie is The Last Stand, which features Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his first starring role since he retired from politics; and also a lot of shooting.
Arnold plays a sheriff in a small town on the Mexican border who has to stop a drug kingpin from escaping into Mexico. The drug lord has fancy technology and massive firepower at his command; up against him, Arnold has only a handful of green deputies and local misfits. In other words, the plot follows some well-worn tracks of small-town Westerns and action movies. The script is full of clichés; the performances are just about uniformly awful; and the violence is gory and cartoonish. But the film manages to be great fun, in part because the viewer remains in continual doubt as to how much of the movie’s badness is intentional. (Another important element is that Schwarzenegger still has a very likeable screen presence — quite an achievement, given his widely reported personal and political foibles.)
Schwarzenegger never actually winks at the audience, as if to say, “This is a parody of bad movies”; but the clunkers come one after another so relentlessly that the suspicion deepens. So is this a legitimately bad movie, or a put-on? My own guess is that it’s the latter, the most deadpan spoof imaginable. The audience I saw it with in midtown Manhattan was laughing throughout, but it’s hard to tell in the dark whether the laughter was with or at the film. In short, I don’t have a final answer on that. I do know that I enjoyed it, and that if you like over-the-top action movies, you probably will too. I’m pretty confident that The Last Stand will (a) be on a lot of critics’ ten-worst lists for 2013 and (b) become something of a cult favorite in years to come.