Last Action Hero (1993) / Action-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running Time: 124 min.

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O'Brien, Charles Dance, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Tom Noonan, Frank McRae, F. Murray Abraham, Bridgette Wilson,  Ian McKellen, Professor Toru Tanaka, Art Carney, Joan Plowright, Danny DeVito (voice), Noah Emmerich (cameo), Tina Turner (cameo), Angie Everhart (cameo), Rick Ducommun (cameo), Colleen Camp (cameo), Little Richard (cameo), Leeza Gibbons, (cameo), James Belushi (cameo), Jean-Claude Van Damme (cameo), Chris Connelly (cameo), M.C. Hammer (cameo), Chevy Chase (cameo), Karen Duffy (cameo), Robert Patrick (cameo), Sharon Stone (cameo), Melvin Van Peebles (cameo), Damon Wayans (cameo)
Director: John McTiernan
Screenplay: Shane Black, David Arnott

Last Action Hero has always been a semi-guilty pleasure of mine, not because I'm ashamed to admit liking it, but because I actually think, unlike most critics, that it is a good and entertaining movie. Most of my enjoyment of it comes primarily through the ingenious way they mix many different elements, from the fantasy realm of the movies, to the quasi-real (but still fantasy) realm of what's "real", and of course, the allusions to real-life people and movies.  For fans of Arnie, it also dishes out a huge helping of smart self-reference and tongue-in-cheek humor, with Arnold Schwarzenegger (Total Recall, Predator) putting himself as the butt of most of the jokes with ingratiating cleverness. 

Schwarzenegger stars in a dual role, as fictional action hero character Jack Slater, and also as himself.  Perhaps the biggest fan of the Jack Slater movies is a young New York boy named Danny Madigan (O'Brien, The Lawnmower Man 2), who spends most of his free time at the local theater watching Slater's exploits on the big screen.  The kindly theater projectionist (Prosky, Hoffa) not only lets Danny in for a sneak preview of the fourth Slater film, but also hands him over a "magic ticket", given to him by Harry Houdini himself, which for all these years, he's been too afraid to try.  Danny gives it a whirl, only to find that he is transported into the Jack Slater movie itself, living in the fictional world of action heroes and movie clichés.  Slater can't believe the far-fetched story, but the kid knows too much about him, including the whereabouts of the bad guys.  One of these bad guys in particular is the ruthless henchman named Benedict (Dance, Hilary and Jackie), complete with flashy glass eye and a nasty disposition.  Things seem to proceed according to formula, that is, until Benedict manages to find the magic ticket, allowing him to pass from movie-land into the real world.

For the most part, Last Action Hero is a funny and irreverent good time, not only for action movie junkies, but for film buffs that know and love all of the conventions that the action genre holds.  There are many in-jokes and witty allusions to be found throughout the film, mostly dabbling into Arnold's filmography for references, although the makers aren't afraid to send-up such high-brow artists as Shakespeare, Mozart, and Ingmar Bergman for a few choice gags.  This is a very smart and adept parody, perhaps a bit scattershot in its approach at times, but the willingness to gamble on the material is refreshing for an undertaking of this magnitude.  Everyone is game when it comes to the in-jokes, from F. Murray Abraham, Anthony Quinn, and even director John McTiernan (The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard with a Vengeance) himself.  The gags range from silly to sophisticated, with something for just about everyone. 

And yet, it was a substantial critical and commercial misfire.  Audiences just weren't feeling the vibe this time around, for reasons that continue to elude me to this day.  Perhaps the cleverness of it was too acute for many in the audience to see the satire of it.  Perhaps they saw the satire all too easily and expected more. Regardless of the reasons, I'm at a loss as to why Last Action Hero failed to find a proper audience, especially considering how well-publicized and promoted the film was at the time of its release.  I'd like to think that this would be one of those movies that would find its audience over time, but even to this day, after all of the years on video and regular showings on cable, few consider it to rank among Schwarzenegger's best films like I do.

Arnie fans and action nuts have probably all seen this one multiple times, so it is an easy recommendation for them.  Outside of this, it seems that most viewers aren't quite in tune with it, as it is a knowingly bad film, intentionally, that some may have taken at face value.  Perhaps the only gripe against it that holds is its excessive length, which at over two hours, exceeds most action films by about 20-30 minutes.  However, this one is crammed with so much, it's hard to gripe.  Last Action Hero is a good movie for those that like bad movies (or is that vice versa?), and Arnold has rarely been funnier.

Qwipster's rating:

©2006 Vince Leo