The real world has never seemed like a good fit for Arnold Schwarzenegger: He’s an actor whose very torso makes normal-size weapons, costars and even his own head look puny. So it’s tempting to view his retreat from governing the state of California (more difficult than he thought) as a plunge back into a happier fantasy. Things are simpler in The Last Stand’s Sommerton Junction, a sleepy Arizona border town where the locals revere their Austrian-accented sheriff and the only problems involve a mild Sunday drive out to the property of benign gun nut Johnny Knoxville. But is this relaxed lawman ready for the arrival of a daredevil Mexican drug lord (Eduardo Noriega), racing south in a high-octane Corvette toward freedom while hapless FBI stereotypes flop around impotently? Does the question need answering?
Schwarzenegger isn’t quite right for the plot’s easygoing Eastwoodian setup and, though critics may dare to dream, he’s never going to grunt through his own Rio Bravo. Yet these shortcomings disappear as the movie strips down to its surprisingly satisfying payoff: an ’80s-style actioner heavy on the squibs and catchphrases. (Normally a lot artier, South Korean director Kim Jee-woon has done his dutiful homework and nails it.) The scowling superman emerges, behind a massive turret, and makes things right (and yes, that Vette is toast); there’s savvy in Schwarzenegger’s understanding of his appeal. Always foreign yet weirdly Americanized in our dreams, the big guy is a craggy monument in need of a countryside. He’s back in the place that deserves him.
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