'The Last Stand' (R)

The idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a small town sheriff is ludicrous, but then that’s the whole point of his new movie: It’s dumb fun, emphasis on the dumb. One does not expect wit or intelligence to play a role in a Schwarzenegger movie — unless James Cameron is directing, and the former governor of California is playing a cyborg — and so The Last Stand is not in a position to disappoint. It’s exactly what you expect it to be. Johnny Knoxville is in it, for heaven’s sake; how can you take it seriously? If you’re interested enough to pay for a ticket, chances are you will be moderately diverted for awhile, though I warn you: You will not be transformed by particularly gifted filmmaking.

In his first leading role since leaving politics, Schwarzenegger plays Sheriff Ray Owens, formerly of the L.A.P.D., who has moved to the border town of Sommerton, Ariz., to take charge of a tiny police force that has more in common with The Three Stooges than actual useful public servants. Their mettle is tested, however, when a dangerous drug lord (Eduardo Noriega) escapes during his transfer to Death Row, flees Las Vegas, and heads south for their little slice of desert paradise to cross the border into Mexico. The feds have the main border crossing shut down. There is only one other road he can take to his destination, and it leads straight through downtown Sommerton. No, seriously. Apparently there aren’t any side streets.

Owens and his band of cops (Luis Guzman, Jaimie Alexander, Zach Gilford) know they’re overmatched, but they’re bound to try to stop the bad guy anyway, even though he appears to have his own army just waiting to help him get home.

Helpfully, there’s an Iraq War veteran (Rodrigo Santoro) locked up in the drunk tank, so Owens and his crew decide to hand him a gun, too.

Plotwise that’s about it. A federal agent (Forest Whitaker) tracking the prisoner’s escape barks orders at his underlings and shouts directions and insults at Owens on the phone (this strategy backfires). There’s a Corvette with a starring role that has enough horsepower to outrun a fighter jet or orbit the Earth or something, that may actually be a better actor than Schwarzenegger (hard to tell; it doesn’t have any lines). Knoxville shows up as a lunatic Sommerton citizen with a convenient arsenal and a strange array of headgear. Should they choose to accept the challenge, gun-control advocates could have a field day with the caressing and fetishization of weapons in this movie, as well as the orgy of violence that escalates in the movie’s final half an hour. Many scenes virtually wait for — and will clearly receive — audience applause.

Director Jee-woon Kim (I Saw the Devil) handles the action sequences effectively if not spectacularly, though The Last Stand could have dispensed with the occasional attempts at sobriety and cut straight to the chase (or chases).

Schwarzenegger’s political career may not have improved his acting, but he has picked up right where he left off.

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman, Peter Stormare, Eduardo Noriega.
Director: Jee-woon Kim.
Screenwriters: Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, George Nolfi.
Producer: Lorenzo di Bonaventura.
A Lionsgate release. Running time: 109 minutes. Strong, bloody violence, language. Playing at area theaters.