Last Action Hero (1993)

Director: John McTiernan

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Bridgette Wilson

Before “Scream,” a movie in which the characters can quote their favorite movies by heart the same as the audience can, there was “Last Action Hero.” Both movies tackle specific flavors of film and, by pointing out the clichés, are able to deconstruct an entire genre. However, “Scream” does not have Jamie Kennedy leap through his television while watching “Halloween” (1978) in order to protect Jamie Lee Curtis from Michael Myers. Ahead of its time in this regard, “Last Action Hero” chooses the action genre as the butt of its self-referential humor.

Like most kids his age, Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) would rather be watching movies than doing homework or even going to school. This has forced his mother (Mercedes Ruehl), an active PTA member, to come up with stories to tell his principal. Like Marty McFly in “Back to the Future,” Danny’s best friend is an old man who everyone says is crazy. The old man, Nick (Robert Prosky), is a theater projectionist, and has offered to get Danny in to see a sneak preview of the new “Jack Slater” movie, the fourth in the series, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Already very familiar with the first three “Jack Slater” films, Danny is excited to be first to gaze at the latest one. Nick presents him with a golden ticket (reminiscent of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”) which is said to have magical powers and was given to Nick by the legendary Harry Houdini. As the film gets underway, Danny suddenly finds himself in the backseat of an unfamiliar, yet a bit TOO familiar car. Sure enough, Jack Slater is behind the wheel!

The movie could have simply continued with Danny helping Jack Slater play out the pre-determined plot of “Jack Slater IV,” all the while hitting puberty at the mere sight of Jack’s daughter, Whitney (Bridgette Wilson), but it’s not satisfied with that. Danny constantly uses his knowledge of the scenes from the movie he saw prior to becoming a part of this fictional world, as well as his knowledge of the rest of the “Jack Slater” series, to interact with other characters and help with the investigation. This creates several hilarious moments where the movie’s heroic characters are understandably suspicious of how Danny knows so much about both them and the bad guys. However, it is Danny’s very presence that allows the villains of “Jack Slater IV” to discover that there is a whole other world out there. This leads to Danny and Jack Slater entering the real world. Now the tables are turned, because it’s the fictional characters whose new surroundings leave them in shock. The rules are different, but the dangers are far more real. The biggest twist of all comes when the REAL Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life is put in jeopardy.

Schwarzenegger has always been an actor of limited range. His comedic efforts tend to reflect this, as they almost all seem entirely forced and not especially funny, either. His true home has always been with the action genre. In order to get any genuine laughs, it was only natural that he try poking fun at himself. Having a decent script to work with doesn’t hurt. “Last Action Hero,” in addition to being really funny, really feels like a late 80’s/early 90’s action movie. Credit the team of director John McTiernan and writer Shane Black (both of whom worked previously with Schwarzenegger on “Predator”), as well as composer Michael Kamen (both the “Die Hard” AND “Lethal Weapon” franchises) for helping to create such a familiar atmosphere.

What probably got the biggest laughs out of me were all the cameos from familiar faces, as well as Danny’s ability to see certain characters as the actors who played them. When Danny first arrives in Jack Slater’s world, he can’t turn a corner without recognizing someone from a movie. I’m pretty sure I would need a change of underwear if I saw the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) from “Terminator 2” walking towards me, but all Danny can say to Jack is, “Did you see that?!” The first time he sees the character played by F. Murray Abraham, the thought that comes to Danny’s mind is: “That’s the guy who killed Mozart (in “Amadeus”)!” He’s most likely not as yet familiar with actor Charles Dance, who plays the glass-eyed Benedict, the main villain of “Last Action Hero.” Danny probably didn’t see “Alien 3” (as a for instance) the year before. Hands down, the best of all the unexpected appearances in this movie goes to Sir Ian McKellen, who portrays Death from Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.” As soon as he showed up, I thought it looked like McKellen, but I wasn’t 100% sure. Once he finally spoke, there was no mistaking him.

In 1993, Arnold Schwarzenegger was still one of the top stars in Hollywood. That “Last Action Hero” wasn’t an overwhelming success can be attributed to many things. For one, it was in direct competition with the blockbuster hit of that summer, “Jurassic Park.” Also, oversaturation of Schwarzenegger himself may have been a contributing factor. This would have been around the time of Planet Hollywood, an attempt at creating a movie-themed restaurant similar to the music-themed Hard Rock Café. Schwarzenegger shamelessly plugged the hell out of that place, a fact that is played for laughs within “Last Action Hero.” Largely filed away and forgotten, this is a movie that deserves a second look. I hadn’t seen it in at least fifteen years (maybe more), and I’m glad I revisited it. Arnie’s best comedy, and among the most entertaining of his movies.

  1. Elmo Shell says:

    Bridgette Wilson….i remember her very well the first time i seen this movie. Its been a long time since i seen this feature. (the film that is not Bridgette Wilson) I’ll have to check it out. Good review.

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