After serving as governor of California for seven years, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in The Last Stand, his first starring role in a Hollywood movie in 10 years. Surprise! He could end up with a hit action flick.
Schwarzenegger, whose last lead was in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003, plays the semi-retired sheriff of a sleepy little Arizona burg nestled on the Mexican border. Nothing much happens here. Nothing has ever happened here, except for kitties stranded in trees. But, when a notorious drug cartel leader escapes from the clutches of Forest Whitaker's FBI unit in Las Vegas, the playboy criminal heads straight towards this dusty, dog-eared, two-bit town as part of an elaborate getaway plan.
As the title suggests, while the FBI guys try to catch up, Schwarzenegger makes a "last stand" to stop the kingpin. He is played as a psychotic sophisticate by Spain's Eduardo Noriega, while our hero sheriff looks like a big stupid lug. He is helped by a motley crew of deputies and friends, among them Johnny Knoxville playing the town kook, who just happens to have a huge stash of weapons.
The good guys have to fight off the villain's heavily armed but disposable henchman, led by a sleazy psycho played by Peter Stormare. People will die, among them the innocent, but the movie obviously works in support of America's Wild West attitude towards gun control.
Purely as entertainment, The Last Stand is interesting whether you see it out of curiosity, out of a genuine appreciation for Schwarzenegger's action hero status, or because you have a morbid fascination with seeing him shootin', rasslin' and punchin' it out with baddies at the age of 65.
Make no mistake, however: The Last Stand has an absurdly unbelievable plot, a predictable ending, nothing but stock characters, too much idiotic dialogue and a hero with creaky knees, a flabby body and no better command of the English language than he did in Conan the Barbarian. Even Schwarzenegger calls himself "old" on-screen.
Yet, The Last Stand is also tons o' fun. If not for the awkward climax -- a fight scene with hand-to-hand, fist-to-face and knife-to-leg combat -- my rating would have jumped up to three stars. I haven't laughed this much over one of Schwarzenegger's clunkers since he played Mr. Freeze in the awful Batman and Robin in 1997.
Meanwhile, The Last Stand is not really awful. The director is South Korean stylist Jee-woon Kim, who makes his Hollywood debut here. He brings an excellent command of action. The big set pieces all work well, with the exception of that tired and tiresome final fight sequence. And the movie generally looks good.
One big plus is the big shoot-out in the downtown of the little town. It is a hoot, although anyone who invokes High Noon as a comparison has already been shot in the head by a stray bullet. This is what it is: Schwarzenegger & friends blasting away at the bad guys with wild abandon. There will be blood. There will be laughs. There is a hit movie on Schwarzenegger's comeback trail.