The question to be asked with The Last Stand, Arnold Schwarzenegger's first return to the big screen (not counting The Expendables 2) after being the governor of California and causing a messy marital scandal is this: Does he pick up where he left off as an action hero or is it an embarrassment, hurtling him down the road to cinematic obsolescence?
The answer falls somewhere squarely in the middle. For sure, The Last Stand is no Terminator, but it is a fun, if predictable, action-thriller that has no problem gently mocking his age -- he's 66 -- while simultaneously having him bring down the world's most dangerous drug-cartel kingpin.
Schwarzenegger is Sheriff Ray Owens, who presides over his small, sun-baked Arizona border town like a caring dad. So, when it seems most of the city takes off for a high-school football game, Owens is expecting a quiet weekend, leaving what little there is to do to his good-hearted but inexperienced deputies: work-shy Mike Figuerola (Luis Guzman), newbie Jerry Bailey (Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights) and no-nonsense Sarah Torrance (former Colleyville Heritage High School student Jaimie Alexander).
Little does he know that, miles away in Las Vegas, Mexican gangster Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has made a daring, highly choreographed escape from federal custody. He and his crew are on the lam in a modified Corvette ZR1, reaching speeds of nearly 200 mph as they race toward the border. Cortez plans to smuggle himself back into Mexico over a secret bridge that his associates have been constructing near Owens' town.
Angry federal agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), who seems to have had a long obsession with capturing the slippery Cortez, calls ahead to warn Owens that the dangerous felon is headed his way. So it's up to Owens and his ragtag team of law enforcement -- which also includes well-armed town eccentric and comedic relief Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) and boozer Frank Martinez (Rodrigo Santoro), the only occupant in the town's tiny jail -- to keep Cortez from making his escape to Mexican soil.
South Korean director Jee-woon Kim (The Good, The Bad, the Weird; I Saw the Devil), working from a script by Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff and George Nolfi, keeps things moving quickly and displays a keen visual eye in his Hollywood debut. The car chase through a cornfield near the end is a nice touch.
That helps distract viewers from the story's outbursts of illogic. (No one knows that a large bridge, not hidden by foliage and easily seen from the air, is being built near their town? Really?)
Certainly, Schwarzenegger moves a bit slower than he used to. There are a couple of moments when you can almost hear his bones creaking.
But he can still deliver a beatdown to the bad guys with the best of them. And that's the main thing anyone going to see this film cares about. With Terminator 5 announced and a fleet of other Schwarzenegger movies in the pipeline, those afraid that this indeed would be Arnold's last stand can breathe a sigh of relief.
He'll be back.