You can sense that “The Last Stand” has a brain in its head when Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a beleaguered small-town sheriff, dryly cracks a between-us-immigrants joke to Eduardo Noriega’s Mexican cartel boss. Heck, Ah-nold’s post-gubernatorial solo comeback vehicle doesn’t even bother to insult us with some weak throwaway rationale for planting an Austrian in Arizona. Still, you might have your doubts about the movie’s smarts, depending on which of its other various loopy moments you were to sample. Korean director Kim Jee-woon (“The Good, the Bad, the Weird”) seems to take an approach that’s less “let’s see what sticks” than “who cares what sticks,” with some oddly arrhythmic results.
Schwarzenegger’s wrinkles actually serve him well in playing Ray Owens, a veteran lawman content to work his Mayberry-esque border enclave and baby-sit unskilled deputies (Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzman) after tougher days in Los Angeles. The accented robo-delivery is what you remember, but Schwarzenegger projects weary bemusement with nary an exclamation of “I’m too old for this [expletive].” (Nothing quite so clichéd, anyway.)
Things start to get dicey for Ray’s department when slithery neo-gunslinger Peter Stormare, playing twangy with gusto, hits town with a mystery assignment, a paramilitary crew, and bridge-building gear. Meanwhile, up in Vegas, Forest Whitaker’s FBI man has his hands full pursuing Noriega’s baddie, who’s escaped custody and is rocketing south in a 1,000-horsepower Corvette. (Turns out he’s a jefe-professional racer. Again — loopy.) Guess where he’s headed?
Kim doesn’t sweat interweaving his story threads in any tightly controlled way. Just when the need-for-speed stuff really starts to gain traction, he’ll shift for a surprisingly lengthy stretch to comic relief with the deputies and local wacko Johnny Knoxville. And the director will persist until the buffoonery produces something legitimately funny, like jittery Guzman rattling off alternatives to, well, a last stand. Not the most iconic choice for Schwarzenegger to announce that he’s back, but not one that’s completely prefab, either.