In his earlier action films, Arnold Schwarzenegger relied on a unique ability to mis-emphasize syllables, ESL-style, which in turn jazzed up brutish one-liners that always punctuated recently or soon-to-be committed violence. This became a kind of charisma and it was his own. Additionally, and probably most importantly, he was a power-body with unstoppable agency for both good and evil, a Jayne Mansfield of killing stuff. At a personal alchemical level, these qualities worked in the way that shortness and "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis" worked for Gary Coleman, a series of crowd-pleasing notes he could hit in his sleep and use to get paid.
But the decades roll on. And after ultra-tanning and apparent face tightening and the commencement of the 60-something shrink, after a political hiatus -- a move that ages the hardiest of souls -- and all the creepy fallout that attended it, it's kind of strange that this film finds itself relying on Johnny Knoxville saying, "Hey, you're looking jacked. Are you working out?" to remind the audience that this is a famous bodybuilder who's also famous for taking down bad guys. He looks and acts and moves like he's a little lost, not sure how much he needs to give to the role and how much slack other people are going to pick up if he chooses not to bother.
The good news for this B-movie love letter to extreme gunfire is that its star, even if he's behaving as a kind of a figurehead delivering stock quips, isn't the make-or-break element. Director Jee-woon Kim (I Saw the Devil) knows how to fill up the screen, surround his megastar with economy-sized murders, car chases, billowing blood-clouds and goofiness.
A Mexican drug lord (Eduardo Noriega) escapes federal custody thanks to his own personal army and a rocket ship-fast supercar. As he makes his way down through Arizona for the border, the FBI guys (Forrest Whitaker and support staff) give chase. But the only real obstacle in his way will prove to be a small-town sheriff (Schwarzenegger), his crew of misfit deputies and a couple of local gun nuts (Knoxville, as well as random adorable old people packing heat). Irresponsible '80s-style action ensues.
The body count piles higher than the jokes about the body count and sometimes the tone of the frenzied violence is hard to decipher (are we meant to care? think slaughter is funny? worried for anyone? maybe...) but the net result is an energetic death race decorated with random Jackass-style hijinks. Its force comes from the stunts, the driving and the guns, with Schwarzenegger placed somewhat semiotically into scenes as a reminder that, yes, he's here to regulate. Sort of. At one point, asked how he feels, he responds, "Old," and you know it could have been an ad-lib, but the entire package deal has generated enough rousing good will that you give him a pass. At least for now.