Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a man who has resigned himself to a life of fighting what little crime takes place in sleepy border town Sommerton Junction, Arizona, after leaving his LAPD post following a bungled operation that left him wracked with failure and defeat after his partner was crippled and his team decimated. The crimes experienced in Sommerton range from the Mayor parking his red Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in the fire lane and vintage arms collector Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) firing off guns at slabs of meat with the deputies. One night, international drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) makes a daring escape from FBI custody in Las Vegas and speeds off in a modified Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1, taking Agent Ellen Richards (Génesis Rodríguez) as his hostage as he races southbound toward Mexico at speeds over 200 mph. Agent John Bannister (Forrest Whitaker) has a blockade set up in Bullhead City, Arizona, but Cortez's men mow down the police officers on site and clear the road for him to continue his getaway. Cortez also uses his extraordinary driving skills to immobilize two SWAT vehicles headed toward Summerton Junction. Before flying to Arizona, Agent Bannister has his team do a financial background check on all agents involved to find out how Cortez managed to escape so easily.
Sometime past 4:30 in the morning, Owens dispatches deputies Jerry Bailey (Zach Gilford) and Sarah Torrance (Jaimie Alexander) to visit the residence of the local farmer Parsons (Harry Dean Stanton), who has suddenly missed his usual milk delivery at the diner. After discovering that Parsons has been murdered, the deputies follow a trail of tire tracks that lead them to Cortez's henchman Thomas Burrell (Peter Stormare) and his mercenary cutthroats, who are planting a mobile assault bridge across the canyon that marks the U.S./Mexico border. Bailey is fatally shot in the middle of a shootout between the deputies and the thugs before Owens rushes in to bring his officers back to his precinct. Shortly after being notified by Agent Bannister of Cortez's presence, Owens gathers Torrance and senior Deputy Mike "Figgy" Figuerola (Luis Guzmán). He also deputizes jailed local Frank Martinez (Rodrigo Santoro), a former Marine with PTSD who developed a streak of never finishing what he started. Because Bailey was his friend, Martinez insists that he will not falter. Finally, Owens recruits Dinkum to protect their town. Dinkum agrees only if he becomes a deputy and if he keeps the gun Owens had confiscated earlier.
At 7:10 a.m., Owens and his deputies have the town's main road barricaded with cars when Burrell and his men arrive, prompting a lengthy firefight. Armed only with a Tommy Gun, Figuerola holds off the thugs before being injured by a sniper. Owens and Dinkum mow down a majority of the thugs with a Vickers machine gun dubbed "Nazi-Killer" mounted on the back of a school bus with Martinez providing cover fire, while Torrance snipes several gunmen on the rooftops. After Owens kills Burrell, Cortez's Corvette eventually arrives in town, veering past the barricade as Owens and the deputies shoot at it. Cortez ejects Agent Richards from the car before speeding through a corn field. Suddenly, he encounters the Mayor's Camaro commandeered by Owens before both cars collide with a tractor. A dazed Cortez continues his escape on foot, but Owens meets him at the bridge. Owens ignores Cortez's bribe offers before both men wrestle each other. Despite sustaining slashes and stab wounds from Cortez's push dagger, Owens defeats the drug lord and handcuffs him before dragging him back into town with the battered Camaro. Agent Bannister arrives to take Cortez back into custody and arrests Agent Richards for taking the drug lord's bribe and aiding in his escape. Deputies Figuerola and Dinkum are taken to the hospital to be treated for their wounds. Martinez turns in the deputy's badge, Bailey's badge, that Owens had given him earlier. Owens tells him to keep it, as he's earned it. As the Mayor sees what is left of his Camaro, Owens warns him about parking in the fire lane before he, Torrance and Martinez walk into the diner.
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