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This Week at the Movies

'The Last Stand' and 'Broken City' are modestly amusing, but 'Mama' is a paint by numbers ghost story.

This Week at the Movies

Arnold Schwarzenegger returns with one-liners at the ready in the bloody and mostly amusing “The Last Stand.”

For his first starring role in years, the former governator plays Ray Owens, the affable sheriff of a sleepy Arizona town who must prepare his inexperienced staff to take on a vicious Mexican cartel leader who has escaped from the feds and is fleeing for the border.

The picture is directed by Kim Jee-woon, who is responsible for the grisly serial killer film “I Saw the Devil.” While “The Last Stand” lacks the visual flair of the filmmaker’s Korean movies, it’s still an enjoyable entry into the Schwarzenegger canon.

The film is violent, but Jee-woon goes more for tongue in cheek than realism. And Schwarzenegger is game for poking fun at himself. “How do you feel, sheriff?” asks one of the town’s denizens after Ray falls from a roof and lands on one of the film’s villains. “Old,” he replies.

Although “The Last Stand” is a minor entry from the former action icon, it’s a well-crafted entertainment. It may not be a “Total Recall” or “The Terminator,” but it’ll do.

Allen Hughes’s latest picture, “Broken City,” may have little in common with the director’s gritty “Menace II Society” and “Dead Presidents,” but – much like Schwarzenegger’s latest – it mostly gets the job done.

The film is a far-fetched, but well-paced, thriller about a disgraced cop turned private eye (Mark Wahlberg) who is hired by New York’s sketchy mayor (Russell Crowe) to follow his wife (Catherine Zeta Jones), whom he believes is having an affair.

Hughes’s latest may not be as bleak, nihilistic or angry (I mean that as a compliment) as his previous works, but it still paints a picture of a city drowning in corruption.

Wahlberg’s Billy Taggart, who is well meaning but no angel himself, has a difficult time discerning whom to trust and he’s given a cast of potentially shady characters from whom to choose.

Aside from Crowe’s obviously sleazy Mayor Hofstetler, there’s also a City Councilman – the unironically named Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper) – who is challenging the mayor for his seat, Valliant’s campaign chief of staff (Kyle Chandler) and the police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright).

The script takes several twists and turns, of which some are obvious and others you might not see coming. There’s very little insight into the political process to be had here and the film toes the line in terms of believability. But for pure escapism, you could do worse.

The ghost story “Mama” is elevated by the luminous presence of Jessica Chastain, but it’s still a mediocre horror film.

Its premise is compelling enough. At the film’s beginning, a father goes on a violent rampage at work and murders his estranged wife – all of which takes place off-screen – before stealing away his two daughters and taking them to an abandoned cabin in the woods, where he plans to end all their lives.

But in the nick of time, the two girls are saved by a mysterious presence. Four years later, the little girls’ uncle is still searching for his nieces. One day, they are found in the cabin, where they have lived on their own – or have they? – covered in dirt and scampering around like rodents.

They are left in the care of their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his musician wife, Annabel (Chastain), who is skeptical of her ability to care for the girls.

Soon after their arrival, creepy occurrences ensue. Strange noises come from the closets. One of the little girls sneaks out her window and sleeps underneath a tree in the cold. And both youngsters speak of “mama,” whom they claim cared for them during their years in the cabin.

Of course, this being a ghost story, there is a history involving a wronged individual. And, naturally, it is up to Annabel to set things right with the past to prevent the picture’s titular poltergeist from tormenting her family.

One of the film’s problems is its clunky handling of Mama’s backstory, which is spelled out just enough to allow the plot to move forward, but is still pretty nebulous.

And this is another in a long line of horror movies in which characters behave as if they have never seen a horror movie. There was a person seated behind me in the theater who, during one scene, shouted out, “Don’t open that door.”

You wanna guess whether that door was opened?

“Mama” isn’t a bad film, but it follows the rules of its genre so closely that it barely distinguishes itself from the pack.

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