I occasionally get in on conversations concerning little-seen movies that ruled. Often I hear the question, “is Last Action Hero any good?” You’re darn tootin’, it is! I love this movie, and by the end of this, you’ll want to watch it, too.
First of all, some history: Last Action Hero was a movie released in 1993, which was directed by James McTiernan, starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, and featured a great ensemble cast and a great rock soundtrack. But, despite the great expectations of those involved in its production, nobody cared when it hit theaters. Therefore, it flopped like Rick Flair over the top rope, ensuring that no other attempts at such a parody film would be made until stuff like Scary Movie came out eight or ten years later.
The movie centers around a boy named Danny Madigan, a New York City resident who uses the movie theater as an escape from the mean, cruel world. His favorite movies, though, star Arnold Schwarzenegger as serial action hero Jack Slater, a Los Angeles cop who constantly finds himself engaged in crazy adventures. When Danny’s friend, Nick, a kindly old projector operator, invites the boy to an exclusive preview to Jack Slater IV, he gives Danny a ticket he claims was given to him as a boy by Harry Houdini, and that it was a magic ticket. So, while watching the movie, the ticket grants Danny’s greatest wish: to be with Jack in the movie. The movie is about Danny acclimating to the imaginary and exaggerated Hollywood world of Jack Slater, losing the ticket to the antagonist of Jack Slater IV, and them coming into and adjusting to the physics of the real world.
So what’s to like? A number of things.
First of all, it’s really, really funny. Everything from the crazy situations, the dialogue, the slapstick, even the toilet humor is well executed and very entertaining. However, there is a good bit of subtle humor that requires a bit of thought, and it’s this component that I believe caused the picture to be eternally condemned as a crappy arty Ahnuld gamble. This is a shame, because there’s just so much good stuff going on here…Danny’s imagined take on Hamlet (with Arnold playing the title role) is great…when its time to kill his uncle, “Hahmlet” whips out a machine gun and mows everybody down and destroys everything in a nuclear explosion is the single greatest thing that sticks in my mind.
While inside the movie, Danny’s treated to the best of Jack’s world…coming in right in the middle of one of the coolest, most outrageous car chase scenes I’ve ever seen. Sure, there’s a lot of unrealistic stuff going on, from Slater turned completely around and firing his huge .45 pistol at his pursuers and blowing everything up in the vicinity. Then there’s the bombs that the movie-within-a-movie’s arch nemesis has planted…in a by body of a guy named Leo the Fart…in order to kill all the other mob bosses attending a funeral! There’s just so much going on in here in terms of action and humor, that the whole thing is pure fun.
Although the whole act spent inside the movie being so frivolous and over the top, this only highlights the acts that take place in the real world…and the message there is that the real world sucks. At the beginning, Danny’s robbed in his own house while his mom’s at work, which tells us why Danny’s fascinated by the action heroes he loves so much…they are good guys, and the good always prevail. When the villain obtains the ticket, jumps into the real world, and realizes, in his own words, “in this world, bad guys CAN win,” the whole farce that the movie had been up to that point is shown for what it is…a farce. It’s amazing how it portrays the appeal of the imagined world in contrast with the rigors of the world we actually have to live in, and I’m shocked that the critics didn’t pick up on that and swoon over the juxtaposition.
None of this would have been as enjoyable without the ensemble they put together for this movie. Austin O’Brien played the role of Danny Madigan with all the exuberance of a boy meeting his all-time hero, frustration at a clueless uncle figure, the sharp attitude of a youngster growing his cynical shell, and the disappointed pre-teen facing up to the difficulty the big, wide world presents. Of course, there’s Arnold mocking his own film persona, which is priceless in itself. Take every tough guy he ever played in his eighties action flicks, make the composite even more one-dimensional, and put him in a red t-shirt, blue jeans, and well-worn brown leather jacket, and you get…JACK SLATER. Just priceless. Charles Dance, however, had what was probably the most fun role in the movie as the totally amoral villain, Benedict, in a world that totally didn’t suit him, and he instinctively knew it. His finding the ticket brought a somewhat whimsical but yet more sinister side out of him, and that was just great. The rest of the cast included F. Murray Abraham as the two-faced Jack Practice, Mercedes Ruehl as the hard-nosed but loving Mrs. Madigan, Anthony Quinn as the cliche-challenged mob boss Vivaldi, Art Carney as Jack’s unfortunate cousin Frank, Tom Noonan playing the Ripper from Jack Slater III, Ian McKellan in the role of Death, Robert Prosky as Slater’s perpetually P.O.’ed police captain, and Bridgette Wilson as Jack’s babelicious daughter Whitney.
Something else about this movie…if you like hard rock, Last Action Hero‘s score owns. There’s not an awful lot of original composition, but there are tons of music from various 80’s rock bands on it, which makes it fit the whole thing perfectly. Speaking of owning, I actually bought the CD Soundtrack for this movie, and I was surprised to find that it’s still available. It includes AC/DC’s Big Gun, What The Hell Have I by Alice In Chains, Def Leppard’s Two Steps Behind, and the title song, Last Action Hero, by Tesla.
So you need to go watch this movie now. Head over to Blockbuster, put it on your Netflix queue, check your TV listings…whatever you have to do. However, if you don’t like it, chances are you don’t know a good movie if you fell over one, so don’t bother commenting. But if you did, let me know all about it! When you get done, head over to Wikipedia’s article on the movie to see how many of the cameos and references you caught….