Our story opens with an introduction of someone we all know very well: Sheriff Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold is the Sheriff of sleepy little Somerton Junction, Arizona, a town that sits on the border with Mexico, just across an impassible ravine. Arnold was a big shot LAPD super cop until he walked away from it all after his team was all but wiped out in raid-gone-wrong. Now he lives the quiet life in podunk.
As Arnold prepares for vacation, we learn that almost everyone in town is leaving for a football game. As they go, the Mayor parks his Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in a fire lane and tosses Arnold the keys just in case Arnold needs to move it... or needs it to catch an escaped drug lord. Arnold also discovers that another local, Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) just happens to own a “museum” of high powered weapons... which could come in handy against an army of mercenaries looking to help a drug lord escape. Just sayin’. And in his drunk tank is a combat trained soldier who could be helpful, I guess.
Anyways, as the FBI, led by Agent Forest Whitaker tries and fails to recapture Cortez, Arnold realizes that something is up and begins to prepare for an invasion of Cortez’s men... who just happen to be building a bridge over the ravine to Mexico. The rest of the movie is chase scenes, fight scenes, shoot outs and one-liners as Arnold and his ragtag band of misfits do what the FBI could not: stop Cortez.
Before I talk about what worked with this film, let me start with what didn’t. The film opens with a fairly standard opening for any film: it introduces the characters by showing you a slice of their lives in which they and the characters around them give you a thumbnail sketch of the elements of each major character. This film does that and it does it in a painfully obvious manner. Indeed, the opening few minutes are full of dialog like, “Gee, we’re lucky to have a sheriff who has fought real crime and could protect us if a drug lord escaped the FBI and came racing through town.”
At this point in the film, I was ready to quit. This was so blatantly obvious as setups for what was to come that it made me doubt this film had anything to offer. In fact, it felt like the director was a beginner who was following a checklist with no sense of subtlety at all, and he put a huge red arrow on each item and wrote the word “FORESHADOWING!” on the screen. It was insulting.
Next, the film does what all the good Arnold films do, and it was an excellent decision: it made Arnold the focus and let Arnold be Arnold. Thus, for the rest of the film, you have the still charismatic Arnold roaming the town, looking tough but always with a sense of humor, spewing one-liners as he kicks the butt of various Cortez mercenaries who come to town.
Ultimately, this isn’t a film that is going to set the world on fire. You’re not going to walk away feeling like you just saw Conan or True Lies for the first time again, but it will make you happy. This film is a total throwback to the kinds of films Arnold made in his prime updated for modern film styles. The end result is a good time, with traces of nostalgia, but with much more to sell than just nostalgia. To value this film another way, it’s not as good as Arnold’s best, but it’s better than most every other action film made today. Not bad for a washed-up actor who spent the last decade getting flabby working for the government.