You’d think that with two terms as governor, a humiliating sex scandal, and dozens of cringe-inducing one-liners behind him, Arnold Schwarzenegger would be content to just kick back on a beach in Tahiti and play grab-ass with a few blondes (or chunky Latina housemaids). But nope. At 65-years-old, Ahnuld is back (he did tell us he’d back, right?) with a leading role in The Last Stand, an action/thriller romp that features some surprisingly good tension and directing, a fizzling third act, heaping helpings of untimely graphic gun violence, and yes, more cringe-worthy quotes destined for YouTube.

Years ago Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) bailed on his LAPD narcotics post after a bungled operation left his partners dead. Now he’s sheriff of sleepy little Sommerton Junction, an Arizona border town that needs its police force to check on missing milk deliveries and little else. But aw shit… things ain’t gonna stay quiet for long are they? I mean, if they did, how else would Arnold get the chance to use a 1939 Vickers machine gun?

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The drama escalates when the movie shifts to Las Vegas where FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) and a ton of feds are transferring drug kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) to a prison with fewer cable TV channels. Thanks to a jumbo sized magnet — the size of which would surely explode the head of any Insane Clown Posse member — things don’t go as planned. Soon the escaped convict’s path begins to converge with the sheriff’s, setting up a series of gun battles and car chases that will likely satisfy any hombre who wanders into their local multiplex looking for such a thing.

Let’s acknowledge South Korean director Jee-woon Kim here. He actually crafts a nice amount of tension through the first hour with some stylish shots, and the film’s blending of two separate settings keeps the pace moving nicely. Does Arnold really convince you he’s the sheriff of a small Arizona town? No. Well, hold on. He was governor wasn’t he? So… I dunno. Point is that Austrian accent is still there and it’s a tight race between what gets butchered more, bad guys or lines of dialogue (“Do you have a permit for that..mahn-stah?” he asks antique weapons owner Lewis Dinkum, played by Johnny Knoxville). But because much of the first hour is spent with the frequently frustrated Bannister leading the FBI in pursuit of Cortez, we’re forced to deal with much less Arnold than you might expect. That’s a good thing. You go into a movie like this knowing you have to take Arnold’s acting with a grain of salt, so you’re prepared for that, but the casting of Noriega (too bland) and Knoxville (too goofy) detract from the film.

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With an estimated budget of $30 million, you have to keep your expectations for the stunts and effects reasonable. Probably the niftiest of the eye candy is the specially-outfitted Corvette ZR1 (faster than the choppah!) that wreaks high-speed havoc on the incredulous FBI and local law enforcement that tries to stop it. One note: An innovative chase scene through a corn field reveals Chevy didn’t build this car with maze-gathering in mind, so you migrant workers out there reading this might wanna look elsewhere for transportation.

Unfortunately the taut, thrilleresque vibe that The Last Stand offers through its first 60 minutes devolves quickly in the final act. The last half-hour winds up resembling much more the movie I was expecting to see–basically Arnold subbing for Chuck Norris in a really long episode of Texas Austrian Walker Ranger. The gunplay rises, the believability drops, and the misplaced humor winds up undercutting the tension that previously was intriguing.

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It should also be noted that the timing of the film, in the middle of this ongoing national debate about gun control, also threatens to derail the fun factor. One moment you’re getting a Jackass-style scene with Knoxville riding a telephone pole to the ground, the next you’re witnessing some pretty brutal shootings including Arnold mercilessly mowing down goons out of the back of a – yikes – school bus. Prepare for a weird mix of bloody shootouts and off-balance humor.

If your expectations are low for Arnold’s return to leading man status – as they should be – and you don’t get too attached to the film you see for the first hour, you won’t regret seeing The Last Stand as a bargain matinee. But that supercut and a few TWR episodes would also do the trick–and cost a lot less.

Grade:  C-