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He’s back — Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in ‘The Last Stand’

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The '80s are back. At the multiplex, anyway.

Over the next month, moviegoers will be treated to an array of '80s-action throwbacks: a new Sylvester Stallone flick, a new "Die Hard" movie, and — kicking things off this weekend — the return of Reagan-era action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first major role since ending his stint as governor of California. He always promised he'd be back, and with "The Last Stand" he dutifully delivers.

Dutifully, of course, does not necessarily mean imaginatively. "The Last Stand" is an exercise in both setting and meeting low expectations: This is an R-rated action movie with fast cars, big guns, bloody shootouts, attractive women, good guys, bad guys, and just enough of the former governor's squinty-eyed tough guy shtick to keep nostalgic fans satisfied.

For better or for worse, then, it's as close to an old school Arnold Schwarzenegger movie as one could hope for. The movie mindfully acknowledges Mr. Schwarzenegger's legend but does not attempt to substantially embellish it. Instead, it sticks with the tried and true tropes of the sort of plodding, muscle-bound shoot 'em ups that Mr. Schwarzenegger helped popularize.

At this point, Mr. Schwarzenegger has begun to plod somewhat himself. The former bodybuilder is still built like a bridge pylon, with arms the size of monster truck axles, but he's aged since he last starred in a movie, and it shows.

Sure, he's still got the best macho smirk in the business, but now it comes across more as an elderly affectation than a serious threat. He's still big, but he's also slower. At this point, Mr. Schwarzenegger is the great old granddaddy of action stars, with spiky hair that looks like unmowed grass, tiny eyes, and tanned, leathery skin that give him the appearance of a battle-weathered dinosaur. It's a fitting look for another ancient giant trudging slowly through his old feeding grounds.

It's familiar territory for all: Mr. Schwarzenegger plays border-town sheriff Ray Owens, a former big-city cop who left for quieter pastures. They don't stay quiet for long, for a Mexican drug boss named Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) is hurtling toward his city in a super-powered Corvette. When the FBI's efforts to stop him fail, Owens and his team must make a final stand.

Director Jee-woon Kim smartly surrounds Mr. Schwarzenegger with clever character actors: Prankster Johnny Knoxville gets second billing, but it's Forest Whitaker, as the FBI agent in charge of tracking down Cortez, who seems to be the real No. 2. Luis Guzman provides some comic relief as one of Owens' dopey deputies, and Peter Stormare offers many of the movie's best moments as a senior henchman. (Indeed, Mr. Stormare's brand of self-satisfied villainy is so bizarrely compelling that it's easy to wish that the movie simply pitted him against Mr. Schwarzenegger, and skipped Cortez, who is something of a dud.)

Mr. Kim displays a surprisingly light touch at times, and his direction and editing are also noticeably less spastic than many recent action movies. The middle of the movie drags a bit, but in some ways the relative slowness fits the aging star nicely: Mr. Schwarzenegger is practically an old man now, and he's made an old man's action movie.

★★½

TITLE: "The Last Stand"

CREDITS: Directed by Jee-woon Kim, story by Andrew Knauer

RATING: R for bloody shoot-outs, language

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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