Last Action Hero (1993)

Rubber baby buggie bumpers

Dir. John McTiernan

Runtime: 130 minutes

Rating: 15

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, Charles Dance


This 1993 fantasy action comedy film is a tongue-in-cheek adventure which I believe is an underappreciated gem. It’s an action film within an action film which laughs at itself and welcomes you to have a laugh as the adventure unfolds.


Summary

Danny Madigan is a young boy that has fallen in love with cinema, in particularly Jack Slater films. It’s one of the few things he can do to escape real life where his single, widowed mother struggles to make ends meet in the crime-ridden area of New York they live in. Nick, the projectionist at Danny’s favourite cinema gives him a golden ticket which was once owned by Harry Houdini. The golden ticket magically transports Danny into the fictional world of a Jack Slater movie, his favourite action star. Danny tries to tell Jack that he’s in a movie but Jack doesn’t believe him. Danny points out things like the cartoon cat the works alongside Slater as a detective, or about Slater’s colleagues who have appeared in other films – but Slater just thinks Danny has a wild imagination. Slater’s boss decides to assign Danny as Slater’s new partner and gives them a case investigating mob boss Tony Vivaldi. Danny claims to know what criminal activities he has been involved in and suggests just driving up to their mansion to confront them. At the mobster’s mansion they meet him and his hitman Mr Benedict. Although Danny knows all about the pair and their criminal activities, Slater can’t prove based on the words of a small boy, so they are forced to give up and return to Slater’s home. Benedict and some goons follow them and attack, Benedict is curious to know how Danny knew about them and manages to get the golden ticket and knowledge about escaping the movie.

After Vivaldi is brought down, Mr Benedict escapes to the real world so Slater and Danny are forced to follow. Slater is miserable to find out the truth that he is a fantasy character in an action film. Meanwhile, Benedict is causing mayhem by releasing bad guys from other films, he plans to kill the Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger – the logic is, no star = no more Jack Slater. One of the bad guys that gets released is Death, from Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” (1957) – and when Jack Slater takes damage in the real world, unlike the movie world, it causes a potentially fatal injury, somethind Death is able to sense. Danny knows that the only way to ensure Slater is safe, is back in the movie he came from – but complications could stop that from happening.


… or… here’s a summary in 180 characters or less…

Magic ticket allows a boy into a movie, which allows a bad guy and action hero to escape the movie into the real world. Time is ticking before it is all irreversible.


This movie is such an underappreciated gem of a film. Arnie and McTiernan have worked well together before on “Predator” (1987), and both have had big hits in their own rights too – when I think McTiernan I instantly think of “Die Hard” (1988) or “The Hunt for the Red October” (1990); when I think of Arnie it’s “Commando” (1985) or “The Terminator” (1984). While Arnie had dabbled in comedy prior to this with the likes of “Twins” (1988) and “Kindergarten Cop” (1990), it is not an area that McTiernan has really gone into as a director. Regardless of that though, this film is a wonderful action comedy which does not take itself too seriously at all and is great fun. There are some great acting performances on show from people that have worked with Arnie before, as well as people who had, at this time, not yet appeared next to him. Arnie obviously stands out as the main vehicle for the film, but he is really funny in this, funnier in fact than I found him in “Twins” and “ Kindergarten Cop”. Those films felt too written and forced for comedy, in this it feels more fun and fluid. His timing and his sense of enjoyment really shine through and he plays a great semi-parody of the kind of character he’s played in plenty of action films before.

Austin O’Brien as Danny works well as a sidekick in the film, he isn’t just a driving character in the film’s plot, but he acts as the embodiment of the audience. He is the target audience, and he’s been thrown into the action. I think maybe because I’m old and grumpy I usually find that (some) child actors are annoying, so when I watched this in 1993 I did find that the Danny character was a bit smarmy and cock-sure of himself. Over time though the character has grated on me less and less (which is more than can be said for you “Annie” (1982)!!). O’Brien comes cross as a typical 1990’s youth that doesn’t always know when to shut up, and often gets a bit too excitable – I remember the types well from attending secondary school in the 1990’s.

In the villain stakes, everyone loves a good British bad guy and Charles Dance is fantastic. I am a fan of his and he delivers an excellent performance in this as the hitman with the glass eye. I would say that he is almost as good as Alan Rickman is in McTiernan’s “Die Hard” film – which is a pinnacle for British bad guy characters in action films. This might be a compliment as the there was a suggestion that that was the kind of performance Arnie as Executive Producer, and director John McTiernan wanted. Here though, Dance is playing this menacing hitman quasi tongue in cheek so it’s understandable that he’s not quite on-par with Rickman – but he isn’t that far off if I’m, being honest about it. Imagine how good he would be with this kind of character in more of a straight film – or don’t imagine it, watch “Game of Thrones” because he’s great in that as Tywin Lannister, or watch him in the recent “Godzilla: King of Monsters” (2019) film.

Dance isn’t the only villain, Tom Noonan follows Arnie’s Jack Slater around as the Ripper. In the Jack Slater film world the Ripper is responsible for killing Jack’s son. Tom Noonan plays the menacing psycho really well and left a haunting impression on me the first time I watched the film.

There are times in in the film when it becomes a bit of a “whose who” with cameo performances littered all over the place, and meta-references to other films. Danny DeVito is the talking cat detective; Ian McKellen is Death; Tina Turner is the mayor of LA in Jack Slater III; the band Wilson Phillips sing at a funeral… there are actors and celebrities playing themselves or playing characters from their own film history; Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Angie Everhart, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Little Richard, (Arnie’s then wife) Maria Shriver, MC Hammer, Jim Belushi, Damon Wayans, Melvin Van Peebles, Chevy Chase… just keep your eyes peeled and your ears open!

The musical soundtrack to this film is great and I have a copy of it on CD. It still gets regularly played today. If the film does well at including lots of cliché action that you expect to find in similar genre films, then the soundtrack perfectly compliments that too with the likes of AC/DC, Alice in Chains, Megadeth, and Anthrax on it. It is loud and exciting, much like the film is too.

Undoubtedly written as a satirical spoof/parody of action films, this film did not do as well at the box office as it was hoped, but it was up against Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” (1993) which blew other films out of the water. It was received more like a modern version of something like “Airplane” (1980) or “Blazing Saddles” (1974) but released at the wrong time and in the wrong era. Had this been released in the late 80’s or earlier 90’s I am sure this would have been more widely loved. Based on reviews I have read it is not just a film in the wrong time, some people found the pacing to be an issue, or through that the acting was too cheesy, or even the plot to be too simple. I tend to disagree; I think this was way smarter than people give it credit for being. I think some of the hatred for this comes from people wanting the same thing all the time and hating anything that is different. Some audiences wanted Arnie to be another Terminator, they wanted a McTiernan movie to be another “Die Hard” – what they got instead was a surprise package – something that was clever, funny, and exciting. Something that laughed at itself as much as it gave audiences the chance to laugh at it too.

If you have not seen it, I am happy to recommend this to a wide audience of different ages. It is a fun family action film with plenty of fun thrown in. It is a solid entry into the Arnie library and seems to have gotten better with age every time I’ve seen it since the 1990’s. For me “ Twins” and “ Kindergarten Cop” tried hard to force themselves to be successful family films with Arnie in and did away with a lot of what you might expect from him. “The Last Action Hero” does not make away what to expect from him, it lavishly embraces it and bathes in all its clichéd goodness – and it works really well to give you something that feels more natural for Arnie to be in, and something he can be amusing as Hell in too.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 7/10

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