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In Movies & TV Reviews

Arnold Schwarzenegger hops back into the leading man saddle with "The Last Stand."

Arnold's "The Last Stand" barely manages to keep its feet

He said he'd be back – several times at this point.

After almost a decade of politicking, supplying pages of tabloid material and making cameo appearances wherever he could, Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in the leading man saddle with "The Last Stand." The shoot-'em-up is aptly titled. The box office results could prove there's life left in the Terminator's career or if it's just running on the slowly suffocating fumes of nostalgia.

If "The Last Stand" is to be believed, it's a bit of both. There's plenty of rust on the Austrian muscle machine, but there's also enough giddy action in his comeback to keep his career's obituaries at bay. But barely enough.

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Sheriff Arnold Schwarzenegger (giving his character a name other than Arnold is like giving someone a knife for a bowl of soup), the guardian of a sleepy Southwestern town on the U.S./Mexico border. It's such a quiet town that when the elderly milkman (Harry Dean Stanton) doesn't drop off the milk for the day and a few strangers are seen conversing in the local diner, Arnold assumes something must be awry.

He'd be correct. It turns out the strangers belong to a band of criminal flunkies, led by the always slimy Peter Stormare. They're building a bridge across a small canyon at the border for Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), a recently escaped drug dealer who plans to use it to flee the country in his suped-up Chevy Corvette (just one of several Chevy cars scattered about "The Last Stand" like shell casings after a firefight).

The FBI, headed up by past Oscar winner ­– and current post-Oscar slumpee – Forest Whitaker, won't be able to catch Cortez before the border, so it's up to Arnie and his rag-tag band of deputies (including Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander from "Thor" and Luis Guzman) to stop the crook from escaping justice. Break out the Gatling guns, rocket launchers and bad-ass zingers.

Schwarzenegger has never exactly been what one would call a good actor, but he's always brought a certain level of macho charisma to his films. When it comes to the action, "The Last Stand" is no different. There's a strange testosterone-fueled glee in watching Arnold stoically mow down bad guys with the aforementioned Gatling gun or pepper a car with shotgun blasts. The movie gives the 65-year-old star several sweet action moments, whether it's tackling a henchman off a building or blasting his car's window with his elbow while driving (because rolling down the window would take two seconds too long).

Of course, as with everything Arnold-related lately, "The Last Stand" is nothing if not self-aware. Andrew Knauer's script never misses an opportunity to note Arnold's age, and our hero even delivers a speech near the beginning of the film, warning a young deputy of the dangers of heading out to Los Angeles. Knauer's cliché screenplay doesn't do much with these touches, nor an immigration subtext that gives the hint that "The Last Stand" might be trying to get at something deeper (it's not). Then again, no one's coming to an Arnold movie for storytelling innovation.

Unfortunately, that sense of meta has infiltrated Arnold's limited acting range. Every time the script hands Arnie a one-liner or comic quip, he delivers it with thick, self-aware desperation, as though he's attempting to create a meme-worthy line out of sheer force of will. The film is meant to serve as Schwarzenegger's big comeback and career resurrection, and that pressure oozes out of his performance.

Knauer's dialogue isn't exactly filled with gold either. There's little wit to be found in the tough guy talk, and his attempts to pillage comedy from Knoxville and the strangely blasé townsfolk are too hokey or stiff to get big laughs. Whether it's the words or the delivery, there's nothing in "The Last Stand" even close to the level of "I lied!" or "Cocainum!"

While Schwarzenegger hogs the spotlight, "The Last Stand" has a secret weapon tucked in its holster: South Korean director Kim Ji-woon. Kim has built himself a small following with his visually inventive and enthralling genre pictures like "I Saw the Devil" and "The Good, the Bad, the Weird."

He brings a lot of that same exhilarating vigor to his American debut. Kim's kinetic camerawork – including a pretty spectacular crane shot during Cortez's first act escape – brings a slick, just on the right side of out-of-control energy to the picture's numerous gunfights and car chases. He also has a nice feel for genre, which helps somewhat smooth out Knauer's uneven script, and even develops a bit of mood in the scant moments in between shotgun blasts.

The packaging is all well and good, but for a movie aiming for silly, mindless fun, "The Last Stand" reeks of strain. A few of the action set pieces capture the effortlessly cartoonish entertainment audiences want – a sequence with Knoxville shooting exploding flares while deflecting bullets with a shield comes immediately to mind. But the rest of the film, especially its lead, is working very hard to have fun. Eventually, a movie as light as "The Last Stand" can only hold up the weight of its massive superstar's waning career for so long before crumbling.

Theaters and showtimes for The Last Stand Rating:


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