THE LAST STAND (Rated R)
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger once famously uttered the unforgettable line: “I’ll be back.” Of course, you have to hear those words spoken in a heavy Austrian accent, just to get the full flavor.
Well, he’s now returned to his first starring film role since slinking out of Sacramento with a lot of personal baggage. Aptly named for its climactic action, “The Last Stand” is undoubtedly not final for Arnold.
As an action hero, Arnold, now eligible to carry a Medicare card in his wallet, still has the physical chops, even when he has to acknowledge being old in the occasional obligatory witticism.
Schwarzenegger’s Ray Owens once had a stellar career in the LAPD narcotics unit, but a bungled operation somehow wracked him with remorse and regret, and so he settled in a sleepy Arizona border town to become the sheriff.
In Sommerton Junction, Sheriff Owens has little more to do than to threaten the town’s unbearable mayor with a parking ticket for leaving his fancy sports car in a red zone.
Meanwhile, up in Las Vegas, federal law enforcement officials, led by FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), are transporting big-time drug cartel boss Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) to a federal prison.
The most lethal and wanted drug kingpin in America makes a spectacular escape from the FBI prisoner convoy, a daring mission that one would find in a James Bond or “Mission Impossible” film.
In his break from federal custody, the fearless Cortez takes a female agent hostage and makes his getaway in a souped-up Corvette ZR1, capable of blowing past state troopers at about 200 miles per hour.
Back in Sommerton, the home front is especially quiet because most of the town has followed the high school football team to an away game.
Yet, a suspicious gang of lawless mercenaries led by the icy Burrell (Peter Stormare) have set up camp outside of the Arizona border town, mainly for the purpose of assisting Cortez to get across the border into Mexico.
The feds realize that Cortez is headed toward the border but don’t figure that Sommerton is the logical place to make the crossing. As a result, they are a little slow to bring Sheriff Owens into the loop.
Before Cortez is even on the Sheriff’s radar, Owens and his small band of deputies run into a violent showdown with the mercenaries. They are not really equipped to handle this initial encounter.
The sheriff’s crew consists of the pudgy Mike (Luis Guzman), a source of comic relief; the earnest rookie Jerry (Zach Gilford); and pretty yet brave Sarah (Jaimie Alexander).
It takes Sheriff Owens to figure out that Cortez is headed to Sommerton. At first, FBI agent Bannister dismisses Owens as a backwater official way out of his league.
Realizing that he is out-gunned and out-matched, Owens decides to beef up his fledgling force by deputizing two locals, one of them a current resident of the town’s only jail cell.
As the town drunk and local troublemaker, Frank (Rodrigo Santoro), who served in the Iraq War, is an obvious choice to be a reluctant recruit – sort of like Gene Wilder in “Blazing Saddles.”
The other newly-appointed deputy is goofy gun museum owner Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), who just happens to have a load of assault weapons and other heavy artillery that comes in handy in a “High Noon” type of showdown.
Of course, Knoxville is channeling his “Jackass” persona by engaging in comic mischief and crazy stunts for which his unhinged humor is most suited.
In the same spirit as “Vanishing Point” and “Two-Lane Blacktop,” much of the action under South Korean director Kim Jee-woon’s command is a high-speed chase across the expansive wasteland of the Arizona desert.
Cortez blows through the occasional state and local police roadblocks as if his car was a bowling ball knocking down pins to score a perfect strike.
The inevitable showdown on the streets of sleepy Sommerton, where Owens and his crew decide to make their last stand, should come as no surprise to anyone mildly familiar with the action formula.
“The Last Stand” is a good old-fashioned shoot-‘em-up with the sensibility of a vintage Western, except that horses have been replaced by high-speed cars and the weapons have a lot more firepower than six-shooters.
Schwarzenegger may be an aging action icon, but he still has enough kick that might serve him well for a couple more of these adventures before he rides off into the sunset.
With a nice comedic flavor, “The Last Stand” proves to be goofy fun with its explosion of violence, car chases and general sense of mayhem.
Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.