Schwarzenegger back for 'The Last Stand'

Having played the part of governor of California from 2003 to 2011, Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in action for The Last Stand. It’s his first leading role since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

But moviegoers didn’t come out in big numbers for The Last Stand during its opening weekend. The film’s ninth place finish at the box office suggests the former governor may also be a former movie star. Nonetheless, The Last Stand is an entertaining return for the 65-year-old action icon.

Like Clint Eastwood has often done in movies of the past few decades, Schwarzenegger does not ignore his age in The Last Stand. He plays a veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department’s narcotics squad who left the big city for a tiny Arizona border town. Sommerton Junction is not a place where one expects to find trouble.

But The Last Stand takes its cue from a classic John Wayne western, 1959’s Rio Bravo. Howard Hawks directed Wayne and a great supporting cast including Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan and Ward Bond in Rio Bravo’s story about a small-town sheriff who enlists a ragtag crew to keep a bad guy’s brother in jail. There’s lots of High Noon in The Last Stand, too.

Trouble comes to Schwarzenegger’s town when a vicious Mexican drug lord picks Sommerton Junction as his escape route from the FBI. The sheriff and his three deputies, none of whom has seen anything like what they’re about to experience, will be outgunned and outmanned.

The Last Stand is at its worst when Schwarzenegger and his team are off the screen. The movie spends extended periods with Forest Whitaker’s panicky John Bannister, an FBI agent who’s supervising a convoy that’s transporting drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega).

Cortez quickly escapes from the convoy and jumps into a Corvette ZR1 that’s been transformed into a super car capable of amazing speed.

Schwarzenegger and his deputies are double underdogs. Whitaker’s arrogant, ineffective FBI agent tells the sheriff to stay out of way. Cortez, bred from immense power and wealth and absolute amorality, believes he is omnipotent.

No surprise that The Last Stand becomes a bloodbath with a high body count. The movie could also be an NRA commercial. The good folks of Sommerton Junction are quite familiar with firearms, especially eccentric gun lover Lewis Dinkum, played for comic relief by Johnny Knoxville.

Sheriff Schwarzenegger’s team includes his professional deputies, played by Luis Guzm├ín, Jaimie Alexander and Zach Gilford, plus an inmate turned recruit played by Rodrigo Santoro. Needless to say, the performances aren’t up to Rio Bravo and High Noon standards.

South Korean director Kim Jee-woon makes his English-language debut with The Last Stand. He previously directed comedy, horror, crime noir and an Asian western. His latest film essentially is a western that’s been transplanted, and effectively so, to the era of Mexican drug lords and heavy weapons of the kind used in modern warfare.

Schwarzenegger, an actor never known for his acting, does some persuasive thespian work in his big-screen return. It’s fun, too, to see him blowing villains away and grunting his trademark lines.

“Look, I don’t know you, and I don’t answer to you!” he tells Whitaker. Likewise, he tells his spooked deputies: “If he comes through our town, he will be our problem.”

Yes, and Schwarzenegger will be that smug young thug’s problem, too.