In one of the dumbest, most preposterous — but awesome! — scenes in The Last Stand, an old-school actioner seemingly born in the shameless bang-bang '80s, the former governor of California rides a bad guy off the roof of a three-story building then blows the dude's evil head off on the way down. And there is much rejoicing!
Call me crazy — or a repressed fanboy geek still clinging to his rambunctious teens — but this is an ideal time, and an ideal flick, for an Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback. And I'm talking about the REAL Ahnuld here, the merciless Commando and Predator tuchus-kicker, the first Terminator, not that thumbs-up T2 peacenik.
First of all, at 65 years old, Schwarzenegger — playing a genial docksiders-wearing sheriff of a laid-back border town — can still sell it as an action star. He may not be built like a stack of concrete blocks anymore, but he's still built like a pile of unmixed cement bags, and that's better than most of us can claim. At the same time, though, he doesn't shy from his age; the sunlight repeatedly falls on his weary, cracked-leather mug, an unfiltered, closeup honesty that only adds to the movie's atta-boy charms.
But more than that, Schwarzenegger has returned to a cinema landscape that's not unlike the one that fueled his rise in the early '80s, where action movies, and to a greater extent horror flicks, play out with all the dizzying frying-pan-to-the-head violence of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. The bloodier and more inventive the take-down, the better. In The Last Stand, even a little old lady gets to blow away a bad guy and quip a zinger. Kindergarten Cop this isn't.
Okay, so The Last Stand may not be a great movie; the score is cheesy to the point of distraction, an Act III twist is a dud, and logic is frequently substituted with car crashes and related explosions. But it's smart enough, and it knows exactly what it wants to be and how it wants to entertain you. South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon has concocted a modern Western, with Schwarzenegger's Ray Owens in charge of stopping a drug lord in a 1,000-horsepower Corvette ZR1 (plus his army of paid-off thugs) from zipping through town, over a "mobile bridge" and into Mexico. All our hero has at his disposable is the most bumbling bunch of deputies since Don Knotts led the Apple Dumpling Gang.
But therein lies the good time. Kudos to dueling sidekicks Luis Guzman and Johnny Jackass Knoxville (the latter playing an unhinged ammo nut with a 1939 Vickers machine gun) for injecting legit laughs into the mayhem. Also funny — in a nefarious mustache-twirling way — is Fargo's Peter Stormare in wicked henchman mode. And as an FBI agent whose screw-up helps free the drug kingpin from a Vegas jail in the first place, Forest Whitaker has only cliches to work with, but this veteran is such a pro he turns dreck into something resembling art.
There are myriad finely edited action set pieces throughout, but the top dog is a doozy, a guns-a-blazin' shoot-out on a dusty Main Street, where you better believe that Vickers gun, with Arnold at the helm, is going to make a loud, cheerable appearance. Despite the tag line on the movie poster — "Retirement Is for Sissies" — The Last Stand never oversells the geezer gags or lowers itself to winking inside jokes about Schwarzenegger's colorful life. When he remarks that he's getting up there, an even riper gent scoffs, "Aw, you got a ways to go yet." After this loud, likable comeback, I would heartily agree.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.