‘Last Stand’: A decent comeback vehicle for Arnold

Likably ludicrous and armed to the teeth, “The Last Stand” is an updated Western of limited plot, overwhelmed by the iconography of its star.

Yes, THAT star: This is former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to leading roles. It’s been a long spell since our heavily accented friend held down the center of a movie, and “The Last Stand” turns out to be a serviceable re-entry vehicle.

The man’s age is showing, as the film itself points out once or twice. If Big Arnie cruised through much of his career providing the beefcake, he’s now looking more like well-tanned jerky: lined, seasoned, dry in every way.

That’s not a bad thing; Schwarzenegger actually looks cool here, at least in close-up. (The body’s worn down these days.) We need no elaborate explanation of how this larger-than-life fellow came to be the sheriff of a small town on the Arizona-Mexico border, although we get one anyway.

When the feds lose track of a lethal Mexican drug lord (Eduardo Noriega) and let him escape (in a super-advance-model Corvette that can go 200 mph), the road back to Mexico leads right through the sheriff’s sleepy little town.

Why, the lawman would be a fool to rely on his untested deputy (Jaimie Alexander, from “Thor”), a hungover Iraq War vet (Rodrigo Santoro), and his chubby sidekick (Luis Guzman) for his only help in stopping the fleeing villain.

So he enlists a looney-tunes gun enthusiast, played by “Jackass” star Johnny Knoxville. Knoxville plays a role no larger than any other supporting actor, but receives co-billing with Schwarzenegger on the poster, a turn of events that makes me unexpectedly sad. How the mighty have fallen, and all that.

Knoxville aside, many of the actors appear to have been assembled to make Arnold’s accent sound invisible. Craziest in this vein is Peter Stormare, the always-fun Swedish actor, who channels a Southern accent (and I don’t mean Southern Sweden) and sounds like he got chicken-fried steak stuck in his throat.

The hiring of Korean director Kim Jee-woon (“I Saw the Devil”) to helm “The Last Stand” lends an air of the cutting edge to this project. The action tends to be standard, nevertheless. A curious car chase in a cornfield feels like this director’s kind of thing, but a disconcerting amount of boom-boom is poorly laid out.

The spirit is willing, however, which is why this ridiculous picture gets a passing grade. It also has a consistent sense of humor, not least how it takes for granted that all Americans have a stash of guns in their possession, ready for the next onslaught to break out.

And then there is Schwarzenegger, whose layoff from acting (well, movie acting) has not sharpened his skills. As much as I enjoyed the tiny pangs of 1980s nostalgia while watching “The Last Stand,” it must be said that when Arnie conveys the simplest gestures he still goes through mighty convolutions of face and body; even enjoying a morning coffee in a sleepy diner taxes him.

Welcome back, big man, but relax — you don’t have the California state legislature to worry about anymore.

“The Last Stand” (2½ stars)

A comeback vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who plays a small-town Arizona sheriff facing down a fleeing drug kingpin. The action’s in place and so is the humor, courtesy director Kim Jee-woon, although Big Arnie himself seems no more fluid at conveying the simplest gesture than he ever was.

Rating: R, for violence, language

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Thornton Place, Woodenville, Cascade Mall.

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