The question with The Last Stand, Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to the big screen (not counting The Expendables 2) after being the governor of California, 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 squarely in the middle.
The Last Stand is no Terminator, but it is a fun, if predictable, action-thriller that has no problem gently reminding you that Schwarzenegger is 66 while having him give the world's most dangerous drug-cartel kingpin a brain-banging beatdown.
Schwarzenegger is Sheriff Ray Owens, who presides over his sun-baked Arizona border town like a caring dad. So when it seems most of the city takes off for an away high school football game, Owens is expecting a quiet weekend, leaving what little there is to do to his inexperienced deputies: work-shy Mike Figuerola (Luis Guzmán); newbie Jerry Bailey (Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights); and no-nonsense Sarah Torrance (Jaimie Alexander).
Little does Owens know that, miles away in Las Vegas, Mexican gangster Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has made a daring escape from federal custody. He is on the lam in a modified Corvette ZR1, reaching speeds of up to nearly 200 mph as he races toward the border. Cortez, with the help of some cronies, plans to smuggle himself back into Mexico over a secret bridge his associates have been building near Owens' town.
Federal agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), who seems to have had a long obsession with capturing Cortez, calls to warn Owens. So it's up to Owens and his ragtag, ad hoc crew — which includes well-armed town eccentric and comedic relief Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) and ne'er-do-well Frank Martinez (Rodrigo Santoro), the only occupant in the town's tiny jail — to keep Cortez from making his escape to Mexico.
South Korean director Jee-woon Kim (The Good, The Bad, the Weird; I Saw the Devil) keeps things moving quickly in his Hollywood debut. Cortez's breakout on the streets of Vegas at the film's start and a car chase through a corn field near the end show off a keen visual eye.
That helps distract viewers from the story's outbursts of improbability. (No one even suspects that a large bridge, not hidden by foliage and easily seen from the air, is being built by a criminal gang near their town? Really?)
Certainly, Schwarzenegger moves slower than he used to. There are a couple of moments when you almost hear the bones creaking. But he can still deliver the hurt to some bad guys.
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 The Last Stand would be Arnold's last stand can breathe a sigh of relief. He'll be back.
'The Last Stand'
3 stars out of 5
R for strong bloody violence throughout, strong language. Lionsgate. 1:47. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholas ville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.