He told you he'd be back.
This weekend, Arnold Schwarzenegger lumbers back into theaters with his first starring role since 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. In The Last Stand, he plays a sheriff with a troubled past forced to deal with an escaped prisoner who drives towards his border town at 200 miles per hour and who doesn't have to stop for gas. Arnold's costars are Johnny Knoxville, a past-his-Oscar-prime Forest Whitaker, action movie cliché henchman Luis Guzman, a shotgun, a machine gun turret and what looks to be 15,000 gallons of blood and guts.
Schwarzenegger's return to the action movie spotlight hasn't turned out to be a momentous pop culture event, like Brett Favre's un-retirement was, or like Dr. Dre's Detox eventually will be (OK, maybe not at this point -- nobody cares about Dre's headphones anymore, let alone his music).
Has he become a caricature of himself? Even before his foray into gubernatorial matters, Schwarzenegger wasn't exactly making quality movies -- his last actual good one was True Lies in 1994. After that, he made a string of humorless action movies like Collateral Damage and unintentionally humorous catastrophes like Batman and Robin.
Schwarzenegger has never been a good actor. Like, not even close. His heavily accented voice is an obvious impediment; it has a droning quality that only gets worse when he over-enunciates his vowels or tries to put any emotion into his words. The grace he exhibited lifting weights as a young steroid freak in Pumping Iron didn't translate to feature films, in which his rigid joints could use a fair amount of WD-40.
But action movies have never required amazing acting, and Schwarzenegger's have been no exception. His best movie, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, still holds up as an all-time great popcorn flick, despite James Cameron clearly masking Schwarzenegger's deficiencies by casting him in a perfect role: A robot, who for some reason has an Austrian accent.
You don't go to a Schwarzenegger movie to watch him act -- that's how you end up suffering through two hours of Jingle All The Way. You're going to see a huge guy with a funny accent do cool action movie things. It's what separates something like The Expendables from something like Gangster Squad. There's nothing impressive about watching Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin casually mow down a bunch of thugs with Tommy Guns. With ridiculous violence, you need larger-than-life characters to back it up. And Schwarzenegger, as an actor or a politician, is a ridiculous character.
Arnold Schwarzenegger undeniably has charisma. It may be gargled, monotonous charisma, but it's charisma nonetheless. That charisma will be back on display Friday, and hopefully this time, Arnold will be back to stay.
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