Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t joking when he growled: “I’ll be back.”
Having served two terms as governor of California, which necessitated a 10-year hiatus from headline roles on the big screen, the professional bodybuilder turned actor returns with a vengeance in Kim Jee-woon’s testosterone-fuelled action thriller.
Politics has improved him immeasurably in front of the camera.
Delivery of dialogue is softer and less robotic and in the film’s most touching moment, there is a glisten of genuine saltwater in those big, brown Austrian eyes.
Like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, Schwarzenegger is acutely aware of his physical limitations as a 65-year-old action man and happily pokes fun at his pensioner status.
When his gung-ho law man leaps through the glass door of a diner to avoid a hail of bullets and one of the staff asks, “How are you Sheriff?”, his one-word response - “Old” - elicits a wry smile.
“Nah, you got a way to go yet,” offers the diner’s owner comfortingly.
In The Last Stand, Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, sheriff of the sleepy town of Sommerton Junction, which nestles on the US-Mexico border.
Ray is looking forward to a day off, leaving his three deputies - Sarah Torrance (Jaimie Alexander), Jerry Bailey (Zach Gilford) and Mike Figuerola (Luis Guzman) - in charge.
Alas, news filters through that notorious drugs kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has escaped FBI custody and is heading south in a specially outfitted Corvette ZR1 with Agent Ellen Richards (Genesis Rodriguez) as a hostage.
“I got a psycho in the Batmobile. How am I supposed to stop him?” despairs lead agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker).
While Bannister and his team race to Sommerton Junction, Ray rallies his troops - including troublemaker Frank Martinez (Rodrigo Santoro) - to form a human barricade against the bad guys.
Luckily, the town has a gun museum run by oddball Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), who just happens to have the firing mechanisms for his declassified arsenal.
“The Last Stand is a rollicking romp enlivened by the same hyperkinetic direction that distinguished Jee-woon’s 2008 western The Good, The Bad, The Weird.
Frenetic action sequences are orchestrated with aplomb and wry humour, including a protracted chase through a cornfield.
Schwarzenegger is in rude health, risking life and limb to thwart Cortez, who he berates for making “us immigrants look bad”.
Knoxville injects lunacy to the second half of the picture, while Noriega doesn’t quite live up to his villain’s billing as “the most vicious cartel boss since Pablo Escobar”.
Arnie is back and with several films in the pipeline, including new instalments of Terminator and Conan plus a sequel to Twins co-starring Danny DeVito.
The Austrian Oak has a very long way to go before he is felled.
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 6/10
Released: January 25 (UK & Ireland), 107 mins