In his first lead role since serving two terms as the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to the big screen by providing a welcome reminder in The Last Stand of what he does best. Brash, dumb and more than a little clunky in its exposition and character development, it's also a hell of a lot of fun, as far as mindless entertainment goes.
Schwarzenegger is Ray Owens, a former Los Angeles police officer now serving as sheriff in a sleepy Arizona town called Sommerton. Elsewhere, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), the biggest leader of a drug cartel since Pablo Escobar, escapes from FBI agent John Bannister (Forrest Whitaker) while being transferred to death row, with plans to use Sommerton as a low-key spot to cross the border back to Mexico.
When Bannister's reinforcements are unable to arrive to help the cause, Ray is left with the overwhelming task of fortifying the town using what little resources and manpower he has at his disposal. Though it may take a while to build momentum, as we wait for these two disparate story threads to intersect, they come together in a satisfying showdown that provides the narrative's final act.
Perhaps sensing that Schwarzenegger may be a little rusty, the film smartly surrounds him with some choice supporting actors, including fellow officer Luis Guzman, perennial bad guy Peter Stormare and the hyperactive Johnny Knoxville, as a weapons "expert." Even the great Harry Dean Stanton shows up for a scene as a farmer stubbornly refusing to allow his land to be used for nefarious deeds.
There are no aspirations of high art here, with Korean director Jee-woon Kim (The Good, the Bad, the Weird) turning his English language debut instead into a celebration of the grandiose. Between revelling in the horsepower of Cortez's souped-up Corvette, portraying the comically mundane rhythms of small-town life and lingering on the cascading parts of an exploding body, it recognizes that few attend movies like this for the understated.
As for Schwarzenegger, whether it was carefully calculated or not, this is the perfect vehicle for him to wedge his way back into the consciousness of moviegoers everywhere. All doubts about whether he still has the chops to pull off this kind of action at his age should be cast aside after the film's go-for-broke climax.
When Stormare's henchman asks him who he is and, after taking the requisite beat, he coolly responds, "I'm the sheriff," it's a reassuring proclamation — Arnie's back. (Alliance)