Last Action Hero – 4 out of 5
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a larger than life presence and not just in the fact that he’s a body builder. Unless you’re new to this planet (in that case, I welcome you aliens and hope you haven’t come to destroy us), you know this man pretty much created the action genre as we know it as his films are legendary and his time as the badass hero in these films are infamous. During his peak, after the smash success of Terminator 2 but before the fun of True Lies, a strange little action comedy hit the scene in 1993 called Last Action Hero. The film was pretty much panned by audiences and critics alike. Lord knows when I saw it I was confused by the feature’s tone and couldn’t quite wrap my head around what it was trying to accomplish. However, times have changed and so have my tastes and I would later come around to really enjoy this film. Recently, I decided to watch it again so I can review it and talk about how much I love this misunderstood gem and how I think it is far more brilliant than we ever gave it credit for.
|This scene might have one of the greatest pithy/bad pun lines ever written...|
"You wanna be a farmer? Here's a couple of acres," and then kicks him
in the nuts. It's so bad that it's freakin' brilliant!
Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) is a movie-obsessed kid living in a bad part of Manhattan. Rather than focusing on school, he’s often skipping and hanging out with Nick (Robert Prosky), the manager of a run-down theater about to close. One night, he tells Danny that he’s going to have a late night screening of the latest feature in an action franchise centered on Danny’s favorite hero cop; Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Before the feature starts, Nick gives Danny a magic ticket that was handed down to him from Houdini but little does Danny realize is the magic ticket is real and he soon finds himself in the movie world with Jack Slater. Now he must convince Jack that everything around him isn’t real and figure out how to get out before the film’s hitman villain; Benedict (Charles Dance), learns of the magic ticket and escapes to the real world.
|He's got a Golden Ticket...and one that kicks the ass of Charlie's Golden Ticket.|
Like I said earlier, when I first watched this film when it came out, I didn’t care for it but that was because I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand satire and Meta gags weren’t really in my wheelhouse yet. As I got older and started to really become a student of film, I found myself checking it out again and I started to get it. When I hit college and my course of study was that of the rhetoric and production of media, I began watching this movie more and more and realized that Last Action Hero was ahead of its time. This movie is one giant satire piece that pokes fun at the action genre, movies in general and how they compare to real life and it was obvious that the 90s wasn’t the decade for this film (sorry, 90s Kids, I know you think that decade was perfect). I fully believe that if this movie was made today, it would be a critics’ hit since we are neck deep in satire at every second of the day.
|Every time I see this part of the movie, I take a second and actually find myself|
wondering how T2 would have been with Stallone.
|Did I mention this movie also throws in two second |
cameos just for quick throwaway gags? That's
The way Last Action Hero is constantly goofing on the action genre and the warped reality that has become the world of movies is smart, witty, and hysterical. It’s even more impactful because an action film icon is the lead role and a big reason this film works so well is because of Arnold. In recent years, the man has made huge steps forward as an actor and has shown he has dramatic chops (see the zombie film Maggie) but for a long time he was the butt of a lot of jokes as just being the tough guy with no real depth. On the surface, LAH doesn’t seem like we get to see Arnie really test his range but when you really look at it for what it is (satire) you see that he’s playing a heightened version of the man we were overly familiar with from the movies but doing it to a degree that works within the film’s reality. It’s a subtle from a certain perspective and one that can easily be overlooked because we had also seem him in comedies at this point. Arnie is simply taking the goofiness from those comedies and mixing them with the hard-edge from the action features and that brought forth a performance that perfectly encapsulates the satirical nature of the story and major points to him for having a few friendly jabs at himself in the process.
|There were times that I took Arnie for granted. If I ever do that in the future, I |
just have to watch this movie again and remember why I think he's so cool.
|At least in this property, Dance isn't killed while|
sitting on the toilet.
Another performer that really seemed to get their hooks into the fantastic writing of this film is Charles Dance as the hitman with the glass eye; Benedict. Dance already has this aura of sophistication that he brings to every role he plays and having him as the “straight man” in this fantasy-dipped action feature made the comedy and tone that much stronger. Watching his response when he sees that cops don’t arrive immediately on the scene when a crime occurs and he sees how apathetic the real world can be is not only smart comedy that is providing commentary about our world but it’s also incredibly amusing to see because he makes the idea of a fictional character jumping out of the silver screen and into the real hilarious but also authentic feeling.
|This movie also has F. Murray Abraham.|
F. Murray. Abraham!
For the most part, I pretty much love this film from start to finish but there are a few elements that I think partially hinder the movie but never really harms the overall quality to a noticeable degree. The first element is that I don’t think Austin O’Brien was the best choice for Danny. He’s not a bad actor and he definitely has his moments of greatness but there are just enough bad moments that make him sorta serviceable in the role. Unlike the rest of the cast, he can’t quite nail down the level the others brought to the satirical elements and he often comes off a little slap-sticky with his comedic moments when a more subtle approach would have been better.
|O'Brien is actually fairly decent for a child actor in this feature but, compared to |
the rest of the cast, he just couldn't stand toe-to-toe with them.
The final element is the running length. This movie is over two hours long and that’s not really a bad thing but this one definitely could have been improved with a little tightening up. There’s a few superfluous moments here and there that could have been left on the cutting room floor and this movie might have been a perfect satire and parody. For example, as much as I love seeing Ian McKellen as Death during the final moments of the film, the reality is the story could have easily existed without this sequence and it would have cut down the somewhat bloated running length.
|Honestly, though, I will take the long running length just for McKellen as Death.|
|He'll always be the first action hero in my heart!|
Yes, that was cheesy.
Despite these small problems, I really think Last Action Hero is a brilliant film that lovingly pokes fun at everything in the action genre, the medium of film in general and it even has some fun with its lead star. With our currently social climate and how comedy has so fully embraced satire, this film would have been better off being made now because the 90s wasn’t very much into irony or into the idea of having a mirror put up in front of pop culture and playfully teasing the image. From my personal perspective, I absolutely believe that this movie was ahead of its time and is fairly misunderstood by some audiences…also the film has a rocking soundtrack featuring some of the best rock bands of the time period.