a critiQal film review Last Action Hero (1993)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: A magic movie ticket catapults young fan Danny Madigan (O'Brien) straight into the action in the latest sequel from his favorite action hero, Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger). But things really heat up when the film's cold-blooded movie villain (Dance) uses the ticket to gain access to the real world.

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It seems NetFlix® plans on releasing a new Schwarzenegger film every couple of weeks or so for instant viewing. The latest: Last Action Hero, the box office flop that garnered so much bad press. With a hokey theme (a magic movie ticket transports a fan into the on-screen action alongside his favorite hero) and some so-so acting, viewers were particularly un-impressed with this Schwarzenegger offering. But, looking back on it now, would I feel the same way, or was this action satire just ahead of it’s time?

Back in the action hero heyday of the 80’s and 90’s (before superheroes took their place), Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the top of the pile. With action favorites like Commando (1985), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and The Running Man (1987) under his belt (among others), Schwarzenegger was the king of spewing comedic one-liners while wiping the floor with all-comers.

In Last Action Hero, however, he takes that persona he’s built up and pokes fun at it. Still blowing up bad guys without breaking a sweat, hero Jack Slater seems, at first, to be exactly the same type of role for Arnold. As the film progresses, however, the viewer discovers this time that the hero is being played for laughs. Surprisingly, that didn’t seem to sit well with the action junkies at the time.

Schwarzenegger, however, manages to pull off the parody creation while still managing to make the guy look downright cool. That’s a very tough thing to do when the audience is supposed to be appreciating the ridiculousness of the character and the situations around him. He does slip up on occasion, but he’s easily the best thing in Last Action Hero, parody or not.

His co-star, newcomer Austin O’Brien, on the other hand, seems an odd choice to team him up with. Whether the kid is hamming it up (“I’m the comic relief!” he shouts while mugging for the camera), or trying to play “concerned”, the kid is just plain forgettable as an actor.

Thankfully, Charles Dance (where HAS he been since The Golden Child?) makes for an interesting foe for Jack Slater. Although, he seems to be playing in a different class of film than his co-villains. With his calm demeanor and evident chagrin over the incompetents he works with, he seems to be slumming it. He seems too good for the ridiculous action flick that plays out on-screen – either in the fake movie or in Last Action Hero itself. His first conversation with Slater, despite being filled with some truly ridiculous dialogue, is a highlight that is never equaled, despite further interactions between the two characters.

The guest appearances abound in Last Action Hero. Arnold Schwarzenegger and real-life wife Maria Shriver put in an appearance as themselves. Then there’s guest appearances by Jim Belushi, Robert Patrick in his Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) persona, Sharon Stone as her Basic Instinct (1992) character, and Ian McKellen as a sadly mis-used but still entertaining Death. These all help contribute brief instances of fun to Last Action Hero.

While the acting seems to be hit-or-miss, the real problem in Last Action Hero lies with how the filmmakers are unable to create a convincing reality outside of the “movie” world. This is odd, as that seems to be something that would be far easier to do. Big plotholes are a constant in Jack Slater’s “movie” world, as they are meant to be, so the filmmakers – and the viewers themselves – can have a big laugh when they are pointed out. But in the “real” world, where the very idea of a plot is nonsensical, these plot gaps can’t happen. Yet, in Last Action Hero, they do with alarming frequency: dynamite in theater leaves no damage; villain can appear and disappear as called for; despite a lot of talk, and a paper that seems to contradict the idea, no movie villains from non-Slater-related films are actually released into the real world – unless by accident, etc.

While the “real” world needs some work in Last Action Hero, the “movie” world of Jack Slater is brought vividly to life. Whether the hero is wiping tar off of him like water, or the comedic one-liners fly fast and furious during fight sequences, or an explosion leaves the hero virtually unscathed (yet kills off another couple of “extras”), the cliched plot points keep coming. With “real” kid Danny there to point it out, the viewer gets to laugh at all the silliness other action movies (including most of Arnold’s previous films) have relied on.

On the flip side, the viewer also gets a look at a sort-of “what happens next” feel for the action stars they’ve seen on the big screen. When Slater points out that while the action may have been entertaining for the viewers, his reality has become far from entertaining, leaving him with nothing but pain and loss, it’s an odd twist. Unfortunately, this rather interesting look at a “where are they now” look at a fictional character is quickly lost in the rest of the film. Even Slater himself laughs off his worries later on.

With some better special effects and more attention to detail on the “real” world side of things, Last Action Hero could have been a film where the viewer could have had a lot of fun. They could have laughed alongside Schwarzenegger as he poked fun at his typical on-screen character.

But, with so many plot holes in the supposed reality of Last Action Hero, a hit-or-miss cast backing up Arnold and some not-quite-there special effects, the film never gives the viewer a firm base to grip before tossing them headlong into a fantasy world. This makes a film aimed at poking fun at other cheesy action flicks becoming the butt of it’s own joke…and that’s just sad.

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