Arnold Schwarzenegger’s just hurtled through a café door and landed in a heap. “How are you, sheriff?” asks the owner, peering over the counter. “Old,” huffs Arnie as he creaks into frame. No kidding. Nigh on a decade after his last lead role (in Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines), the Austrian Oak’s finally lumbered back into cinemas. He’s older. He’s bigger. His hair’s somewhat thinner. But, really, it’s like he’s never been away.
Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) is whiling out his twilight years in sleepy farm town Sommerton Junction. As we meet him, sock-free and noticeably scruffy, he’s about to take a much-needed few days off. “Should be a quiet weekend,” Arnie muses, somehow unaware that he’s in a movie starring himself, which means quiet is the last thing on the menu.
Sure enough, Sommerton Junction turns out to be the meeting place of escaped con Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) and his gun-loving gang, which is headed by slithering mercenary Burrell (Peter Stormare). Cortez is roaring towards the Mexican border in a swish Corvette ZR1, and his gang are preparing safe passage for him through Owens’ town into Mexico. Meanwhile, FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) is on Cortez’s trail – but can he reach him in time?
This first hour of The Last Stand is easily its weakest. Short on laughs, low on Arnie, it’s too busy introducing characters we have no interest in to give us what we really want – Schwarzenegger. Any Schwarzenegger will do, especially after the teasing likes of the Expendables movies, which only featured him as a supporting player. But despite mildly diverting thrills in an impressive (if implausible) jail bust and numerous car-related action kicks, director Kim Jee-woon’s first English-language film feels as weary as Arnie often looks.
Thankfully, that all changes once our favourite Austrian is let off the leash, and around the hour mark, The Last Stand transforms on a dime into something unexpectedly, uproariously entertaining. When Burrell and his men storm Sommerton Junction, they’re surprised to find it’s not only ready for them, but armed to the hilt. The ensuing orgy of mayhem delivers hilariously gory deaths, bloodshed aplenty and just a few of those patented Arnie one-liners.
We’re not kidding ourselves, though. Arnie’s heyday came and went with the 1980s, and it’s unlikely he’ll ever reach the thrilling heights of that muscle-busting run again. After seven years playing California Governor, though, Arnie still knows how to deliver a good time (there’s even a moment of shiver-inducing acting from the guy as he mourns a dead colleague), and he looks thoroughly comfortable back up there on the big screen. “This is my home,” he says near The Last Stand’s close. Welcome home, Arnie. 3/5