The Governator in The Last Stand.

Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to a starring role with The Last Stand, a film that falls somewhere in the middle of the Arnie canon. It’s not a terrible effort—but it’s not anything to get all that excited about, either.

Arnie is back, murdering the English language with his own special brand of finesse—but he’s refusing to take his top off. He needs a little more time with the HGH so he can take off his shirt, Stallone style! Yep, Stallone is 66 and has no problem showing off his gloriously fake old-guy pecs.

Arnie plays Ray Owens, sheriff of a small town near the Mexican border. When stopping at a local diner to have some coffee, he notices one of the patrons is played by Peter “Where is pancakes house?” Stormare (the actor who put Steve Buscemi through the wood-chipper in Fargo). Ray correctly assesses that this guy means trouble—and bad things begin to happen.

A drug-cartel baddie named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has busted out of a U.S. prison and is racing toward Ray’s town in an incredibly fast Corvette in an attempt to cross the border. The Stormare character is part of a team sent in advance to make sure conditions are clear for crossing—which means shooting a farmer brandishing a shotgun and demanding he get off the land. The angry farmer is played by, of course, Harry Dean Stanton.

Ray has “seen things,” thanks to his prior L.A. cop days, so he’s prepared for a good fight. His deputies include wet-behind-the-ears newbie Jerry (Zach Gilford), the hot-girl deputy (Jaimie Alexander) and another cop played by Luis Guzmán, who, like Stanton, always seems to show up in movies like this.

The same can be said about Johnny Knoxville, who once again finds himself playing wily comic relief in a sheriff-takes-a-stand” movie (something he did, with little success, with The Rock in Walking Tall). He’s basically around to wear kooky hats and make funny faces. I have come to the conclusion that I do not enjoy Knoxville onscreen unless he’s being struck in the gonads by a charging bull.

A subplot involves an FBI guy (Forest Whitaker) tracking Gabriel. He makes a couple of crucial phone calls to Ray, and spends much of the movie staring at computer screens and acting antsy. Didn’t this guy once win an Oscar?

Director Jee-woon Kim offers up some great car chases (including an especially good one in a dried-out corn field), some decent explosions and lots of cartoon violence. The film is never boring, and gets good grades for its action content. However, it is not on par with Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters, one of the best horror films of the past 10 years.

As for the plot, it feels like a movie you have seen before, like the aforementioned Walking Tall, or even Cop Land, which starred a somber Sly Stallone as a lonely sheriff taking a stand against corruption. Stallone played that role when his career was in the midst of a dip, and he was looking to change up his image. As we know, Stallone didn’t get things swinging again until he played Rocky and Rambo as old guys. Similarly, Schwarzenegger probably won’t see his career spark up quite yet. Fortunately for him, his future slate includes a new Terminator; a shirtless, older Conan the Barbarian with saggy man tits; and a sequel to Twins. The meager first-weekend box office for The Last Stand proves that the general public could care less about Schwarzenegger emoting in a sheriff’s uniform.

Surprisingly, this probably contains Arnie’s best acting yet. He has a few moments when it almost seems like he knows how to actually act. I guess nearly two decades in politics gave him a chance to hone his bullshitting skills.

Mediocre movie aside, it’s good to see Arnold back on the big screen in a central role. Next time out, I’m hoping his movie is a little better. 

The Last Stand is playing at theaters across the valley.