Last Action Hero (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Danny (Austin O'Brien) is addicted to Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger) movies. He's seen the third one six times and now he's eagerly awaiting the released of Jack Slater IV. When his elderly friend Nick (Robert Prosky), the projectionist at a run-down theater, tells Danny that he can sneak him in for an advance screening of the new flick, the kid is aquiver with anticipation. The next day, when he arrives at the appointed hour (midnight, when all strange things happen), Nick lets him in and presents him with a "magic" ticket. There's a long story that goes with this, the gist of which is that the ticket purportedly has the ability to transport its user to other worlds, but it has a "mind of its own". Soon after Danny sits down to enjoy the movie, he discovers exactly what Nick meant by that phrase. The seat in the safe comfort of the theater suddenly becomes the floor of Jack Slater's car. Danny is no longer watching the movie -- he's in it.

Admittedly, this is not a good action film. Given its billing, director, and title, that's a surprise. On the other hand, Last Action Hero works as an unexpectedly witty comedy. In fact, I found this movie to be more amusing (not to mention more watchable) than Schwarzenegger's two openly-billed comic entries, Twins and Kindergarten Cop.

The humor ranges from the staple of the action genre -- bad puns -- to some pretty incisive satire. It's possible to find similarities between Last Action Hero and (believe it or not) Robert Altman's The Player. No, this isn't nearly as nasty or intelligent a picture as the Spring 1992 release, but both movies have a lot of fun blasting Hollywood genre films. Arnold's production may be more good-natured about it (after all, he's made his name and most of his fortune out of that kind of popcorn-and-soda movies), but there's no mistaking the intent. There's hardly a plot device of the action film that goes without some kind of dig. The car chase, the shoot-out, the exploding vehicles and houses, the death-defying jumps, the triumph over impossible odds, the last-second escape -- all of these, and more, are mercilessly lampooned in Last Action Hero.

On the other hand, there is fundamental problem in the movie. The action sequences, which are numerous, are not exciting. Sure, they're directed with flair and energy, but the certain knowledge that nothing remotely bad is going to happen to Arnold or his pint-sized sidekick takes away any possible suspense. McTiernan has given us a lot of flashes and bangs, but, aside from the laughs generated by the parodies, there isn't much for us to sink our teeth into. The pulse-pounding, sizzling pull of a Die Hard is absent.

Plot problems abound, but at least the story is more coherent than Cliffhanger. Since it's a fantasy, a great deal (such as the horrible plot device of the ticket) can be forgiven, although there are several instances where Last Action Hero violates its own terms for inner consistency. Some of the things that go on in Jack Slater IV, a live-action cartoon, are enjoyable. There's an incredibly over-the-top car chase (with cars flying off bridges and landing safely far below) that's a lot of fun. However, before the setting switches to the "real world", the pacing becomes sluggish. Once the freshness of the satire has worn off, everything becomes routine.

Back in New York, things get revitalized for a while. We get to see Arnold play himself as something of a shallow media hog who is pushed around by his wife (Maria Shriver, playing herself). It's to Schwarzenegger's credit that he doesn't shrink away from self-mockery. In fact, given the opportunity, he launches whole-heartedly into it.

The ending of Last Action Hero is pathetic. By the last fifteen minutes, the uniqueness and fun have all drained away, and there's nothing in the climax to liven things up. Perhaps if the villains (a one-eyed sharpshooter named Benedict, played by Charles Dance, and a homicidal lunatic called only "The Slasher", played by Tom Noonan) had been more charismatic, the usual end-of-the-film heroics would have been enjoyable, but these are not the kind of bad guys that the audience can really enjoy hating. This is especially disappointing, since McTiernan directed Alan Rickman's standout performance as the slick-tongued, despicable nasty in Die Hard.

There's also an interesting plot thread that's not developed at all. Using the magic ticket, it's possible to bring any screen character to life in the real world. Imagine what the film could have been like with Draculas, Terminators, and all sorts of other unworldly creatures roaming around. Alas, the device is hardly used.

Cameos abound. The likes of James Belushi, Sharon Stone, Hammer, and Jean-Claude Van Damme make appearances. There are also countless references and homages to movies both old and new. The best wedding of a tribute with a cameo involves Joan Plowright, the widow of the late Laurence Olivier. As a school-teacher introducing her class to a clip from Olivier's Hamlet, the eminent British actress tells the students that they might recognize Olivier from Clash of the Titans. Also notable is Schwarzenegger's portrayal of a gun-toting Hamlet. There's also a running gag involving the line "I'll be back."

Last Action Hero is sporadically entertaining, but it could have been a whole lot more. Trimmed down and better edited, this film might have been a top-notch satire. As it is, however, it gets caught someplace in between action and comedy, and never really comes across as a solid example of either.

Last Action Hero (United States, 1993)

Run Time: 2:10
U.S. Release Date: 1993-06-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1