Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a tentative return to a movie career after eight years governing California at precisely the age most guys are at least contemplating retirement.
But like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson before him, Arnie isn't hanging up his guns just because he's 65. In fact, this movie contrives a reason for him to shoot very old guns, including a Vickers repeating gun that looks not unlike the weapon of mass destruction utilized at the climax of The Wild Bunch.
It's all a calculated demonstration of he's-still-got-it potency: The gun may be old and a little rusty, but it works just fine, thanks.
Schwarzenegger is Ray Owens, the sheriff of a sleepy town on the border between Arizona and Mexico. He was once a Los Angeles narcotics cop, and he's apparently moved to Sommerton Junction to live out the remainder of his law enforcement career in relative peace.
But it is not to be. A Mexican drug cartel leader named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has escaped FBI custody in a souped-up Corvette ZR1 and is heading to Mexico (at speeds exceeding 200 m.p.h.) with a hostage female agent (Genesis Rodriguez) in the passenger seat. Because a deep gorge separates the town from Mexico, the arrogant FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) in pursuit of Cortez readies a small army at the criminal's presumed destination.
But Sommerton's small police force learns something is wrong. Cortez's icy henchman Burrell (Peter Stormare) has arrived in town with his own small army of mercenaries in preparation for Cortez's arrival. It falls on Owens and his outgunned, beleaguered police force to take on the bad guys sporting the latest in assault technology.
That particular aspect of the plot puts Owens at the door of Lewis (Johnny Knoxville), the eccentric proprietor of a "gun museum" (a.k.a. personal arsenal). Lewis can level the playing field if Ray will make him a deputy.
Knoxville's shameless mugging and antic craziness belong in another movie. His presence feels like a prank -- as if the japesters of Jackass had somehow invaded the set of an Arnie movie.
That aside, director Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil) moves things along briskly enough, even if other elements (not just Knoxville) do not integrate into a cohesive action movie. At times, the film is a discordant celebration of those wacky small-town Americans and their guns. Other times, it rips along in fine style.
Mostly, Kim strives mostly to give Schwarzenegger a little dignity, which should be appreciated after his awful self-parodying cameo in The Expendables 2. He keeps his shirt on. His aged face has taken on a little appropriate weathered ruggedness. Even his trademark line is delivered as a low-key "I'll be right back," as if to spare the big guy the heavy lifting of his own iconography.
Selected excerpts of reviews of The Last Stand.
"The best Hollywood action film in recent memory--and almost certainly the best Schwarzenegger outing since Terminator 2."
-- Calum Marsh, Slant
"Shot in New Mexico, the production, unlike the star, has something less than a full-bodied look and lacks any kind of real distinction. It sort of does the job, but just barely."
-- Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
"There are filmgoers nostalgic for this sort of fascist/gun fetishist drivel. Not me. Give me Seven Psychopaths any day."
-- Roger Moore, McClatchy Tribune
"Kim keeps things moving briskly and the members of the strong supporting cast don't seem to mind that they're playing flimsy types. Everyone's just here for a mindless good time."
-- Christy Lemire, Associated Press