The Last Stand
Directed by Jee-woon Kim
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Luis Guzmán, Johnny Knoxville
Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language
1 hr. 47 mins.

I went to see this film as much out of curiosity as anything else. After all, it’s Arnold’s first major role post-governator, post-philanderer. I wondered if he could still carry his weight as the headliner in another action film.

Well, he’s older here and not nearly as hunky as Conan, but one thing he’s developed with age: a sense of humor. After all, he’s cast here as a casual sheriff in a small Arizona border town who moseys around in shorts and loafers. He’s the epitome of Arnold gone soft.

Still, when a host of bad guys come to town, the question comes around: Can he shake off the rust and kick some butt? Uh, yeah. He can. Maybe a little slower and a little more bowlegged, but he’s still tough, in a nice sort of way.

FBI agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) is in Las Vegas to escort dangerous Mexican cartel drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) to death row. Predictably, Cortez, who seems also to be something of a military guru, makes a daring escape and burns out of town in a high-powered Corvette. With Cortez headed for Mexico at almost 200 miles per hour, and the way that Bannister is acting, it doesn’t seem as though anyone can stop him.

In the meantime, a man named Burrell (Peter Stormare) has been hired by Cortez to build a temporary bridge across a canyon that crosses from the U.S. into Mexico. The bridge, an escape route for Cortez, just happens to be located on the outskirts of Sheriff Ray Owens’ (Arnold Schwarzenegger) little hamlet called Sommerton Junction.

Sommerton is so remote, it has a total of one sheriff and three deputies. This against Cortez and his large paramilitary outfit. When one of Owens’ deputies is killed by Burrell’s crew, he learns from Bannister what he’s up against. It’s David versus Goliath times a dozen.

Is the sheriff intimidated? Well, he says he’s scared, but in Arnold’s thick Bavarian accent, he announces to his astounded officers, “I think I have an idea.” An idea that involves an old Gatling gun and a school bus. Needless to say, bullets fly and lots of cars and storefronts and the school bus get destroyed. Not to mention some poor farmer’s corn field.

It seems to me that Korean director Jee-woon Kim has a thing for Westerns. In an earlier film he piloted, one called The Good, the Bad, the Weird, he humorously steals his plot from all those 1960s spaghetti Westerns and mixes in a nice blend of shoot ’em up, slapstick and kung fu.

Here, he takes a shot at 1950s films like High Noon, pitting the good guy against a bunch of bad guys, making the odds seem insurmountable, framing the local sheriff and his group of loyal followers as the town’s best and last hope. The difference here is, Kim likes it funny, and funny he achieves.

This is a typical action film with an overflow of high-caliber weaponry and big explosions, but you can’t argue with the cast, which includes the cockeyed Johnny Knoxville as a Rocky the Squirrel lookalike weapons collector and Luis Guzmán as one of Owens most loyal (and skeptical) deputies.

The Last Stand is mostly paint by numbers, but Kim knows his Westerns and manages to bring gusto to a tired genre. Arnold also seems to delight in poking fun at himself.

In the end you have to ask:  Did I enjoy myself? Did the film make me laugh? I say yes on both counts. This may be a video rental for some, but on a big screen, with Arnold scowling and the humor fast and furious, it feels like an old friend has returned.