Movie review: “The Last Stand”

Aside from a couple glorified cameos in “The Expendables” features, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been absent from movies for nearly a decade. He makes his return in “The Last Stand,” an action movie that recalls some of Schwarzenegger’s classic tough-guy roles. This is a competent feature from director Jee-woon Kim, making his American directorial debut. While it doesn’t do anything innovative with the genre, “The Last Stand” is pleasantly old-fashioned, with sporadic bursts of spectacle on-par with “The Fast and the Furious” franchise. This is a brisk, entertaining flick that knows how to flex its muscles.

Schwarzenegger has aged pretty well, and the screenplay wisely avoids overdoing it on old-age jokes, although there are a couple jabs at the star’s expense. The narrative is absurdly expository, composed of throw-away dialogue that lays everything out for the audience. That’s OK because this is the kind of feature where you aren’t required to think much. It helps that Kim knows precisely what kind of material he’s working with, and injects the picture with a gleefully western sensibility.

Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, sheriff of a small Arizona town called Sommerton Junction. Owens has retired there after a hard, decorated career with the LAPD, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s about to start a relaxing weekend off. Even a vague familiarity with this kind of material will tell you what happens next. Up in Las Vegas, “the most dangerous cartel leader since Pablo Escobar” is about to be transported by the FBI. His name is Gabriel Cortez (played by Eduardo Noriega). FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) heads up the transport, but of course, things don’t quite go as planned and Cortez gets sprung by his army of heavily-armed thugs.

Driving a super-powered Corvette, Cortez flies down the highway at top speed en-route to Mexico, while his lead henchman Burrell (Peter Stormare) builds him a “mobile assault bridge” across the canyon border just outside Sommerton Junction. Agent Bannister leads a conventionally inept effort to stop Cortez. As these things go, there is only one man capable of stopping Cortez and his crew, and Bannister predictably calls on Sheriff Owens.

This is all a good deal of fun with just enough gratuitous violence. Owens relies on a skeleton crew of deputies, including Luis Guzman in a classic Guzman role, Jamie Alexander as the pretty face and Zach Gilford as the doomed rookie.

One of the film’s mistakes is the casting of Johnny Knoxville, essentially playing the same manic version of himself that he always plays. In a movie that already has plenty of light moments, his buffoonery is a bit much.

The rousing climax packs a punch, with well-staged action that highlights Arnold’s strength as an action star. He’sholds up quite well in a last-ditch fist fight on that assault bridge. One of the stand-out sequences is a clever take on corn field hide-and-seek played out entirely between two cars.

“The Last Stand” is perfect for a rainy day viewing with popcorn in hand. If anything, it is elevated past its many clichés by sure-handed direction and the nostalgia of seeing Schwarzenegger back on the big screen.

Written by Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff and George Nolfi; directed by Jee-woon Kim; starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Peter Stormare and Eduardo Noriega; rated R; 107 minutes .

Three stars out of four.