The Last Stand
Directed by Kim Jee-Woon
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Luis Guzman

Any Schwarzenegger fan knows some of his best flicks are of the so-bad-it’s-good variety. Take Commando (1985), where the Austrian He-Man can be seen yanking a phone booth out of the ground, tearing the seat out of a car and crushing a padlock, all with his bare hands. He wasn’t playing a robot in this one, folks.

But there’s a distinct line between so-bad-it’s-good and just-plain-bad, and The Last Stand (opening Friday) crosses it with cynical abandon. Make no mistake, the Governator’s long-awaited return to the screen is cash-in filmmaking at its slapdash-iest.

Don’t blame Schwarzenegger. Fresh off an eight-year hiatus slumming it in politics, the 65-year-old doesn’t take a second of his screen time or a word of his sparse dialogue for granted. As Ray Owens, the sheriff of a sleepy Arizona border town, Arnold exhibits the same unique charm and strained diction that’s endeared him to audiences for decades. He even manages to sell vapid non-zingers like “Welcome to Sommerville,” which, naturally, is spoken to a freshly-killed bad guy.

The film follows Owens as he learns the most feared drug cartel leader in Mexico has escaped custody and is gunning for the border. The FBI, led by agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker), are outsmarted at every turn, leaving just 250-odd pounds of wrinkled muscle crammed into a sheriff’s jacket to stop him.

On paper, the plotline sounds perfect for an aging action hero. The downside is that it keeps Schwarzenegger sidelined until the final act, and even then his efforts are undermined by the movie's dull, underwhelming action set pieces — not to mention a limp villain who, despite his reputation as a deadly gangster, comes off about as threatening as something a younger Arnold would've picked out of a single flaring nostril. Maybe less.

Needless to say, Johnny Knoxville, who delivers the film’s comedic relief largely by wearing goofy hats, doesn’t help.

The most baffling thing about The Last Stand is that it was helmed by celebrated South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon (2010’s I Saw the Devil), who makes his English language debut here. Considering his earlier films have been lauded for accomplished performances and beautiful cinematography, one can only assume something got lost in translation.

The movie has moments. There are car chases, one-liners and a little Luis Guzman peppered throughout for good measure. But none of that can save what boils down to lazy, boring, brainless filmmaking. Here’s hoping Schwarzenegger’s next project strives to deliver a little more than just Schwarzenegger.

1.5 out of 5 stars.