Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) moved out of Los Angeles and settled into a life fighting what little crime takes place in sleepy border town Sommerton Junction. But that peaceful existence is shattered when Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), the most notorious, wanted drug kingpin in the western hemisphere, makes a deadly yet spectacular escape from an FBI prisoner convoy. With the help of a fierce band of lawless mercenaries led by the icy Burrell (Peter Stormare), Cortez begins racing towards the US-Mexico border at 250 mph in a specially-outfitted Corvette ZR1 with a hostage in tow. Cortez' path: straight through Summerton Junction, where the whole of the U.S. law enforcement, including Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) will have their final opportunity to intercept him before the violent fugitive slips across the border forever. At first reluctant to become involved, and then counted out because of the perceived ineptitude of his small town force, Owens ultimately rallies his team and takes the matter into his own hands, setting the stage for a classic showdown.
Any movie that heralds the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to movie star action hero-dom after his foray into politics was going to bear the dubious honor of being auspicious. For better or worse, The Last Stand takes that honor right down the middle of the road, being neither overly ambitious nor groaningly silly in letting this 66-year-old man mug, grunt, punch, and shoot his way back into our hearts and minds as the Ah-nold screen character for which we had such affection. Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, the sheriff of a tiny Arizona border burg who likes the peace and calm of his job and his townsfolk friends. When the FBI informs him that an escaped Mexican drug kingpin is barreling straight toward all that calm in a supercharged custom car, he sighs and saddles up, locking and loading with his wacky friends and deputies by his side for the inevitable stand. In fact, one might well call it a last stand. There are very few surprises in how it's all going to play out, right down to the bone-crunching mano a mano fistfight between Ray and the kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) on a makeshift bridge over the border. Ray has a history as a savvy big city cop, and he smells and foresees all the trouble coming his way, even though no one expects him to do much in the way of making any kind of last stand. That includes Forest Whitaker as the flummoxed FBI agent whose screwup sets the stage for the bloody showdown. Others who are surprised at Ray's chutzpah and ingenuity are Peter Stormare (sporting cowboy boots and a weirdly drawling accent) as the kingpin's sadistic lieutenant, and Luis Guzmán as Ray's bumbling sidekick, who unexpectedly pulls out all his stops at just the right moment. Also on hand is Johnny Knoxville as another town weirdo who happens to own an arsenal of antiquated weaponry that's drafted into action for the fiery climax. Like most of the cast--Schwarzenegger included--these guys are pretty much playing it for laughs even though the body count is exceedingly high among the gangs of henchmen and lawmen alike. The violence is also exceptionally gruesome, whether caused by vehicles, firearms, knives, explosions, or fisticuffs, with loving, lingering shots of spouting blood and severed body parts that were clearly designed to prompt cheerfully vocal responses from the audience. This is the first American film directed by Kim Jee-woon, one of the top names from a booming contemporary South Korean cinema machine, and he has brought an outsider's sensibility and stylistic flourish along with the gory details. People who care about such things might have hoped for a little more auspiciousness from him than Ah-nold's comeback (if it turns out to be that). Otherwise The Last Stand is pretty much exactly what most people would expect from such a thing, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. --Ted Fry