Old Guy vs. Drug Cartel

The former governor of California returns to the spotlight, kills bad guys, saves farmers

Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to starring roles with The Last Stand, a fledgling film that falls somewhere in the middle of the Arnie canon. It's not a totally bad effort, but it's not anything to get all that excited about, either.

That's right, Arnold is back, murdering the English language with his own special brand of finesse and refusing to take his top off. He needs a little more time for the HGH to kick in so he can take off his shirt, Stallone style! Yep, Stallone is 66 and has no problem showing off his gloriously fake old-guy pecs, a standard I'm sure Arnie aspires to.

The Last Stand is basically an exercise in watching a former movie star knocking the rust off his bones after slumming around as the governor of California for a few years.

Arnie plays Ray Owens, sheriff of a small town near the Mexican border. When stopping at a local diner to have some coffee, he notices one of the patrons (played by Peter "Where is pancakes house?" Stormare, the same actor who put Steve Buscemi through the wood chipper in Fargo). Ray correctly assesses that this guy means trouble, and bad things begin to happen.

A drug cartel baddie named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has busted out of a U.S. prison and is racing toward Ray's town in an incredibly fast Corvette in an attempt to cross the border. The Stormare character is part of a team sent in advance to make sure conditions are clear for crossing, which means shooting the occasional farmer brandishing a shotgun and demanding you get off his land. The angry farmer is played by, you guessed it, Harry Dean Stanton.

Ray has "seen things" in his past L.A. cop days, so he's prepared for a good fight. His deputies include wet-behind-the-ears newbie Jerry (Zach Gilford), the hot girl deputy (Jaimie Alexander) and another cop played by Luis Guzman, who, like Stanton, always seems to show up in movie like this.

The same can be said for Johnny Knoxville, who once again finds himself playing the wily comic relief in a "sheriff takes a stand" movie (something he did, to relatively little success, with the Rock in Walking Tall). He's basically in this movie to wear kooky hats and make funny faces. I have come to the decision that I do not enjoy Knoxville on screen unless he's being struck in the gonads by a charging bull or run over by a buffalo herd.

A subplot involves an FBI guy (Forest Whitaker) tracking Gabriel. He makes a couple of crucial phone calls to Ray, and spends much of the movie staring at computer screens and acting all antsy. Didn't this guy win an Oscar?

Director Jee-woon Kim offers up some great car chases (including an especially good one in a dried-out cornfield), some decent explosions, and lots of cartoon violence. A stand-out gory moment occurs when Knoxville shoots somebody with a flare gun. The film is never boring, and gets some good grades for its action content. However, it is not nearly on par with Kim's A Tale of Two Sisters, one of the best horror films of the past 10 years.

As for the plot, it feels much like a movie you have seen before, like the aforementioned Walking Tall, or even Cop Land, which starred a somber Sly Stallone as a lonely sheriff taking a stand against corruption. Stallone played that role when his career took a dip, and he was looking to change his image and get a vocational jump-start.

As we now know, Stallone didn't get things swinging again until he played Rocky and Rambo as old guys. I'm thinking Schwarzenegger won't see his career really spark up again until some of his future slate comes to fruition. That future slate includes a new Terminator; a shirtless, older Conan the Barbarian with saggy man tits; and a sequel to Twins. The first-weekend box office for The Last Stand seems to prove that the general public couldn't care less about Schwarzenegger emoting in a sheriff's uniform.

On a purely performance level, this probably contains Arnie's best acting yet. He has a few moments where it almost seems like he knows how to actually act rather than blow things up or punch people. I guess nearly two decades in politics gave him a chance to hone his bullshitting skills.

Something about this whole enterprise feels a little off. The Last Stand is drive-in movie material released in the dead of winter. Bad move, Lionsgate. It doesn't help that movie violence and gun control issues are hot topics right now, making folks more likely to see a Jessica Chastain movie rather than an aging action star looking for a comeback.

Mediocre movie aside, it's good to see Arnold back on the big screen. Next time out, I'm hoping the movie is a little better.

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