"The Last Stand," Arnold Schwarzenegger's first star vehicle in more than a decade, is not a sci-fi film, though it does travel back in time. Not to the 1980s, as you might expect, but to the decade before, when muscle cars and them Duke boys ruled popular culture. If this rubber-burnin' action-comedy featured a theme song by Jerry Reed, you'd swear it was made in 1977.
Schwarzenegger plays Sheriff Ray Owens, a former LAPD hotshot now minding the sleepy town of Summerton Junction, Ariz. "Should be a quiet weekend," he muses aloud, but no: The wanted drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) is racing his ghost-gray Corvette ZR1 (the film's real star) toward Summerton on his way to the Mexican border.
Not bad for a cheapo plotline, but Andrew Knauer's script restricts Schwarzenegger mostly to talking tough while girding for a final-act showdown. Maybe that's intentional. Schwarzenegger, 65, looks slow and rusty, and his face, once so elastic and expressive, is nearly immobile. Much of the action is handled by others, primarily Jaimie Alexander and Luis Guzmán as loyal lawmen, Rodrigo Santoro as a good-hearted Marine and Peter Stormare as an oily-haired henchman. They're younger and nimbler than Schwarzenegger, but also pretty dull. Only Johnny Knoxville, surprisingly good as the trigger-happy Lewis Dinkum, and Forest Whitaker, as a hot-tempered FBI agent, are any fun to watch.
South Korean director KIM Jee-woon ("The Good, the Bad, the Weird"), making his first English-language feature, busily cooks up an Americana stew of car flick, Western and high-tech thriller with some satisfying vehicular crunch and bloody gunplay.
But there's no distracting us from Schwarzenegger's diminished physicality. This won't be the star's last stand -- his duet with Sylvester Stallone, "The Tomb," comes out in September -- but it's a disappointing comeback.
PLOT A border-town sheriff tries to stop a drug kingpin from crossing into Mexico.
RATING R (strong violence, language)
CAST Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander
BOTTOM LINE Plenty of bullets and bloodshed in Arnold's new flick, but the star looks rusty and the shtick feels creaky. If this is a test drive for a comeback, it barely crosses the finish line.