Arnold's Next Movie: There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle…


The one on the left is a waxwork.

"The calls are coming in," former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tells the Los Angeles Times' Geoff Boucher in a tease for the celebrated actor's return to the movie business. 

Blimey, Guvnah! A bunch of those calls are from me, trying to get a new take on the pension crisis that continues to cloud California's future and your successor's administration. 

The news here isn't particularly new. Schwarzenegger has not settled on his next project, but he's been suggesting he'll be back on the silver screen for some time. Here's how the voice of Stan Lee's animated hero The Governator responded when the Austrian paper Kronen Zeitung asked in January if he was thinking about returning to movies

"Sure. Currently I'm reading three scripts! A pitch that I didn't have time to consider when I was governor intrigues me most. I would play an older German officer who gets an order at the end of the war to kill dozens of children. He disobeys, and life-and-death adventure ensues. The plot is based on a true story."

Boucher's short list of possible Arnold projects – which includes a policier and a puzzle movie – doesn't include that picture. The surest bet seems to be that of Dwayne The Rock Johnson, who predicts Schwarzenegger will "make a smart choice very soon and he'll dominate again." 

Why shouldn't he? Without consulting any reference, I can name five Schwarzenegger pictures that deserve inclusion in the Great Films section at the tera-library of the giga-Vatican: True Lies, Conan the Barbarian, Terminator, Stay Hungry and Total Recall. I can also name many others that are hugely entertaining (the Terminator sequels, Commando, Predator, Kindergarten Cop a.k.a. Devil King of Children, Jingle All the Way, etc), one of the great sports documentaries (Pumping Iron), and a bunch of other movies I haven't seen, which I'm sure have their moments. (I seem to recall there's even one with Jim Belushi, where Arnold plays a Soviet Army officer.) All of these depended on his still-intact humor and fractured eloquence as much as or more than on his physical strength. Weirdly, given his two-term executive adventure, Schwarzenegger has barely any directing credits, so there's always Christmas In Connecticut II. Finally, his famous business sense comes through in this assessment of the current action-adventure market:

Still, last summer's "The Expendables," directed and starring Sylvester Stallone, pulled in $274 million in worldwide box office with its old-school commando fantasy and aging action-hero cast, including a fleeting cameo by Schwarzenegger. The 38th governor of California watched those receipts with considerable interest and he also smiled as he watched Liam Neeson, now 58, "kicking in doors" in the surprise hit "Taken" three years ago.

"The whole industry has not come up with a new line of action heroes so [people say] let's go see the mature ones — that's what I call them, the mature ones — because there's nothing new around," Schwarzenegger said. "That's good news for me."

I still say a performer who can hold a roomful of people as easily as Schwarzenegger should be doing legit theater. Damn it: Arnold needs to play Lear

In any case there's something telling in seeing Schwarzenegger's career in politics come to resemble Michael Jordan's tenure with the Birmingham Barons. If the presidency were still on offer he would probably still be making political noises, but as it is he is returning whence he came.

And that's a rational move. What made Schwarzenegger a rarity in politics was not the outsider purity he bragged about. (His creepy friendship with a thug like Fabian Núñez easily puts that perception to rest.) It was that he is a truly interesting person with recognizable talents, able to get rich in both the relatively free market of entertainment and the completely gamed economy of California real estate. His rejection of politics, and his smiling return to the private sector, say something not just about politics but about the instinct that first brought Schwarzenegger to this country, where in his own words, "the government wasn't always breathing down your neck or standing on your shoes."