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Schwarzenegger is back, baby!

THE LAST STAND is the movie you didn’t even realize you wanted to see. With his return to motion picture stardom, after a decade of “favor to a friend” cameos in movies like THE RUNDOWN and THE EXPENDABLES 1 and 2, this is the action superstar’s first leading role, having left acting to serve as the “Governator” of California, and while it may not have occurred to you to miss him during that time, it’s still surprisingly good to see him on the big screen again. Korean director Kim Jee-Woon’s, working from a script by Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff and George Nolfi, keeps things moving quickly in his American film-making debut turns out to be an extremely Schwarzeneggerish Schwarzenegger film, full of big, violent set pieces and broad comedy. Now he’s not exactly pushing himself here and he may look a little out of it these days, but Arnold proves he’s still game for the mayhem as he fires off rounds and tosses off one-liners, and the movie at least has the decency to acknowledge that it knows that you know that he’s old, he is 66 after all.

Schwarznegger stars as Ray Owens, a former L.A. narcotics cop who left the big city long ago to settle in as sheriff of Summerton Junction, a tiny town on the Arizona/Mexico border. With the local high school football team off at an away game and basically the whole town follow suit to cheer them on, Ray looks forward to a quiet weekend. Yeah, fat chance on that. Drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) gets sprung from U.S. custody in an elaborate escape in Las Vegas, taking off in a Corvette with kidnapped federal agent Ellen Richards (Genesis Rodriguez) at his side. As FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker, who seems one dimensional through out the film), tries and fails to capture or even tail the car, a group of suspicious characters turn up in Summerton led by the icy Burrell (Peter Stormare). By the time Ray and his motley bunch of deputies (including Jamie Alexander, Zach Gifford and Luís Guzman) figure out what’s going on, it’s clear that Summerton Junction’s police force are the only thing standing between Cortes and the border. Strapped for manpower, Ray is forced to deputize local gun nut Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) and war-veteran-turned-town-drunk Frank (Rodrigo Santoro).

It’s like director Kim Jee-woon knew we’d been waiting to see Arnold Schwarzenegger kick butt for a decade, and decided to wait until the very last minute to actually deliver. But THE LAST STAND gets away with this because the cast is lovable enough to maintain our interest and when the time comes for the big showdown, everything goes absolutely insane for a whole third of the movie. I mean Luis Guzmán gets to fire an old-fashioned Tommy gun at Peter Stormare because, well, why the heck not?!

As for Schwarzenegger himself, he’s practically a visual effect here and the fact that we’re seeing him at all is a tiny wonder in and of itself. THE LAST STAND gives him the opportunity to flex his action muscles a bit, and while he goes through an unrealistic amount of punishment for a man his age by the end of the movie, the script also gives him an opportunity to crack jokes, impart wisdom and even express a modicum of vulnerability right when the stakes need to be raised. It’s not his finest role, but Schwarzenegger does at least prove that he still has a place in pop culture history and that he has a decent understanding of what audiences expect from him, as well as what they can realistically get from a 66-year-old actor with more precedent on his side than actual, plausible action movie ability. He’s a big action star now because he was a big action star then, and it works, at least this time, because his very casting imbues the main character in THE LAST STAND with godlike abilities fueled by memories of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, PREDATOR, and of course TERMINATOR.

The shootouts and showdowns are muscular, high-energy and consist of an insane amount of gunfire, although there are some bursts of squirm-inducing, creative carnage. Much of the hand-to-hand combat is shot and edited in a way to obscure what Schwarzenegger is actually doing while creating the illusion that he’s kicking all kinds of butt. And no matter how shameless a product placement it might be, the car stuff is so exciting, you’ll wish there was more of it, heck the car chase through a cornfield somehow alternates between being thrilling and quietly suspenseful.

I totally recall better Arnold Schwarzenegger movies than this, but I wouldn’t say we got a raw deal either, I mean this is no TRUE LIES but at least it’s no COP LAND either. Arnold Schwarzenegger may still have new and interesting tricks up his sleeve as he commences the twilight phase of his screen career but with a fleet of Schwarzenegger movies in the pipeline, those afraid THE LAST STAND indeed would be Arnold’s last stand can breathe a sigh of relief.

He’ll be back.

3.5 Out Of 5 Stars

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