The former actor-turned-California-governor is returning to the big screen in a modern-day western. Critics, however, wonder if he'll still have the same spark at 63 years old.

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  • 18 july 2011

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This article titled “Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in an action film – but can he cut it at 63?” was written by Paul Harris, for The Observer on Saturday 16th July 2011 23.04 UTC

He will be back – but will he be any good?

In fulfilment of one of his most famous movie lines, it was confirmed last week that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the action movie star-turned-two-term California governor, would be returning to the big screen in his first major role since entering politics. The critics are divided on whether it will be worth his while.

While many actors have moved from films into politics – Ronald Reagan was the most famous – few have ever tried to make the switch twice and go back to their former career. “It is a unique moment in his career and for action cinema in America,” said Professor Christopher Sharrett, a film academic at Seton Hall University.

The most obvious challenge facing Schwarzenegger, now 63, is his age. In The Last Stand, a contemporary western, he will play a small-town American lawman who has to capture a criminal drug lord before he escapes across the border. The man who played a barbarian warrior in the Conan films and a robot from the future in the Terminator series is choosing to stick with action roles even though he will soon be a pensioner. He has kept in remarkable physical shape for a man with six decades on the clock, but convincing movie audiences of his credentials as a heroic crime-fighting cop might be difficult.

“He is getting long in the tooth and the movie industry is not very forgiving of that. There is not much tolerance of it. Young men in the audience will see him as an old codger and older people will see him as a star of yesteryear,” Sharrett said.

But there is a precedent. Sylvester Stallone is still pumping out action flicks at 65 and, while his films have not been winning him Oscars, they have generally been hits. His last action film, The Expendables, took in 5m at the box office.

Adding to the chances of Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen being a hit is the fact many people will be keen to see the film for its curiosity value. It also features an exciting new director, South Korean Kim Ji-Woon, who is trying to break into Hollywood after cult hits in Asia such as I Saw The Devil and The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

Also in Schwarzenegger’s favour is the fact that western-style films have a long tradition of ageing male leads. “He can be made to look good, but it will depend on the quality of the script and the film direction. If that is good, then the film could easily work,” said Professor Christine Holmlund, a cinema studies expert at the University of Tennessee.

The Last Stand promises to feature all the staples of a modern-day western: desperate criminal, FBI convoy, hostages, gun-toting henchmen and, of course, a hero.

Kim, who originally envisioned Liam Neeson in the lead role, has called the film “a kind of a combination of Die Hard and High Noon”. It is clearly going to guarantee audiences more in the way of high explosives than high art.

There might be another reason for Schwarzenegger to be heading back to Hollywood. Though he left office with an international reputation on environmental issues, he was hit by a scandal over fathering a child with a maid.

“There is no surprise that he is coming back to films,” Holmlund said. “This whole love child incident messes up his prospects for much else in the way of politics.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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