LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

The good guys just got a big boost in the war on drugs -Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The former governor of California returns to the big screen with his first leading role since 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Schwarzenegger plays a small-town sheriff caught up in a battle with a big-time drug cartel in The Last Stand (due Jan. 18).

After all, he did promise, "I'll be back."

"It's awesome to see him back in action," says producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

Schwarzenegger is Sheriff Ray Owens, a former Los Angeles police officer who has resigned himself to fighting small crime in a sleepy border town. But his law-enforcing slow lane is invaded by a notorious drug kingpin who escapes custody and speeds his way to the U.S.-Mexican border with his lethal gang - straight through Owens' Summerton Junction.

The sheriff "hasn't had to flex his muscles in a while," Schwarzenegger says by e-mail. "So when the gangsters come to town, it's a big test."

The test is made all the more difficult by Summerton Junction's comically inexperienced local force, instantly overmatched by the drug lord's firepower. "Johnny Knoxville's character gets deputized to the force," says di Bonaventura. "That's how desperate they are."

This leaves most of the real fighting to Schwarzenegger in the screen battle helmed by Korean director Jee-woon Kim, making his English-language premiere.

"I guess I could have started slow and eased into it," Schwarzenegger adds. "But it felt amazing to be back jumping off buildings, seeing huge explosions, getting in car chases and throwing punches."

But at age 65, Schwarzenegger is no longer the Terminator. Likewise, his Last Stand sheriff visibly feels the pain of the battle.

"When he leaps and tackles someone, it's not simple to get back up," di Bonaventura says. "You see a new side of him."

"He doesn't feel indestructible," the producer adds.

In fact, after one tumble, Schwarzenegger gets up and mumbles, "I feel old" - unthinkable words from the '80s screen hero.

"You're rooting for him more because he's more like us," di Bonaventura says. "And he gets up and keeps on going. When he needs to be Arnold, he's Arnold."

Even if being Arnold means popping some Advil at the end of the day.

"He's having a ball," di Bonaventura says. "He loves being back and making movies."

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE