There's nothing quite like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger prepare to blow a guy's brains out. In his fun movies like The Last Stand, he'll stand there motionless, his gun an extension of his enormous arms, as he delivers a jokey catchphrase that wouldn't be funny if anyone else had said it. The line comes out in such broken English, but with such earnestness that it's impossible not to laugh. Then he pulls the trigger, blood goes everywhere and he moves on, unhinged, unimpeded and unemotional.
Boy, we've missed that the last 10 years.
Arnold's return to lead roles starts with The Last Stand, a rollicking '80s-style action flick best described as a hopped-up High Noon. Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of a dinky border town called Sommerton Junction, where everybody knows everybody and the cops spend their time on duty shooting at targets with a weapon enthusiast played by Johnny Knoxville.
In Nevada, Gabriel Cortez, a powerful drug lord, spectacularly escapes FBI custody and flees for the border with a hostage in a perfectly product-placed Corvette ZR1, capable of reaching 200 MPH. His crossing point? A gorge next to Sommerton Junction, over which his cronies (led by an always-disgusting Peter Stormare) are building a makeshift bridge. Without the help of the useless FBI, Ray and his ragtag bunch of real cops (Luis Guzman, Zach Gilford, Jaime Alexander) and impromptu deputies (Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro) have to stop Cortez themselves.
Schwarzenegger's old. He's 65 and his creaky body moves around like Treebeard from The Lord of the Rings. But he can still wield a shotgun, as he shows in a couple impressive action set pieces. Most of the slower first half of the film is spent establishing Ray's relatively easy life in this town full of delightfully oblivious people, as well as his motivation for eventually wanting to engage in multiple intense firefights. There's also a lot of innocuous stuff with Forest Whitaker and the rest of the FBI that really doesn't end up being of any consequence. That's the FBI for you.
The action isn't completely absent from the first half, though. Cortez, who's a pretty boring villain by himself, gets a couple great action scenes, from his ingenious escape from the dumb FBI convoy to an amazing car chase scene where he makes some thrilling maneuvers to evade more dumb FBI convoys. Everything builds up to a phenomenal last half hour, when the good guys engage the bad guys with a ton of bullets, explosives, weird weapons and one-liners. It's an exhilarating, bloody climax akin to the Expendables movies -- cheeky violence that's so over-the-top, it's fun. And at the center of it all is Schwarzenegger. He's old, but he's still got it. Grade: B
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.