Arnie: Still Talking Tall

by Glenn Lovell

I never thought I’d be saying this … but I’m pleased to have Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the fold — first in those lug-headed “Expendables” actioners, now in “The Last Stand,” which opened Friday.

Well pleased may be pushing it a tad.

Let’s just say I’m feeling pleasantly reassured by his return in these uncertain times.

I mean, if you can’t rely on Arnie for formulaic thrills peppered with “Hasta la vista, baby” punchlines, who can you rely on?

After six years as California’s Governator, I was skeptical about a comeback. Wouldn’t the acting chops go all flabby, like those 65-year-old quadriceps?

What I failed to acknowledge: Arnold’s no more an actor than a dancing bear is a ballerina. He gets by on snarled ‒ rather, garbled ‒ rejoinders, such as “I’m the sheriff!” in his latest display of over-the-top pyrotechnics.

Say what you will about the guy, he knows how to package himself as bodybuilder/politico/grunt-meister. For “The Last Stand,” he plays a border-town lawman who has to step up when a drug-cartel baddie (Eduardo Noriega) breaks out of prison and attempts to blast his way through Arizona. The character, named Ray Owens, sounds like a variant on Buford Pusser, the Tennessee sheriff who wielded a nasty baseball bat in “Walking Tall.”

Yeah, I know ‒ been there, seen that. But judging from the trailer, the thing has production values, hellacious stunts, firepower and a first-rate ensemble, including Forest Whitaker, Rodrigo Santoro, Peter Stormare, Harry Dean Stanton, Johnny Knoxville and the ever-reliable Luis Guzman.

What’s more it was directed by South Korea’s Jee-woon Kim, who floored us last year with “I Saw the Devil,” a first-rate fusion of horror and renegade cop thriller. Kim is the new John Woo when it comes to action set pieces.

And if “The Last Stand” doesn’t click with audiences, stick around. Arnie has another half-dozen titles in various stages of production, including a prison-break movie with Stallone and that long hinted at sequel to “Twins” ‒ titled, what else, “Triplets.”

Schwarzenegger’s ability to laser-focus remains intact.

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