Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, F. Murray Abraham, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Anthony Quinn, Art Carney, Robert Prosky, Mercedes Ruehl, Ian McKellen, Professor Toru Tanaka, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras
Directed by John McTiernan
Expectations: Low, but hopeful.
Last Action Hero is OK. As a comedy it’s not great, as an action movie it’s about the same, but as a mainstream big-budget action comedy I guess it’s pretty solid. The production itself is quite impressive, and the film boasts a ton of great stunts, FX and explosions. The film-within-a-film idea allowed the writers to go balls out, and they did a great job of distinguishing the real world from the imaginary, even well before Jack Slater transitions over into our world. The use of sunny and colorful Los Angeles as the fictional setting, and gritty, dangerous nighttime New York as the real world helps a lot with this as well.
Before I get too deep into this review I should probably note that I’m not a fan of self-aware films. If the entire Scream franchise and Cabin in the Woods were to disintegrate out of existence, I wouldn’t mind at all. I’m sure there are films out there that buck this rule of mine, but I can’t think of any at the moment. Last Action Hero is definitely one that falls within this self-aware category, but because of Arnold and my general love of shit blowing up I was able to make it through this one without too many urges to jump out the window screaming.
I first saw Last Action Hero when it opened in theaters in 1993. I was 11 years old, and about the biggest fan of Arnold you could be. It would not be a stretch to say that I lived and breathed for the next Arnold movie, just like the film’s lead character, Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien). Anyway, I saw the film and hated it. I honestly don’t remember why, but after finally re-watching it 22 years later, I think I understand why. I just wanted a “Jack Slater” Arnold movie, not one centered around an annoying kid who pokes fun at all the action movie tropes that I genuinely love.
This is largely still my philosophy on film, too, and it’s probably the number one reason that so many of the ’80s throwback movies or the purposely bad “Grindhouse homage films” usually fall flat for me. I prefer conviction over snark, and there’s really no way around snark in a self-aware film. Last Action Hero is full of the stuff, and while some of it is pretty good (Arnold as Hamlet), a lot of it is too dated for anyone not of a certain age to enjoy (and even then it’s questionable). It’s like a 1930s movie with some random joke about Maurice Chevalier. I’m not going to get it because I don’t understand the cultural context; I’m not “of the time.” So those of you who enjoy this movie, look forward to the furrowed brows of your grandchildren when you try to show them “something great” from the old days.
I did try to just go with it and have fun, and I will give the movie this: it has a shitload of good car crashes and explosions and fun action-movie mayhem. It’s not anything really memorable — I finished the movie half an hour ago and I’m struggling to recall much of the action — but it is largely entertaining in the moment. CARS GO BANG! KABOOM! It never fails to captivate me. Against some of Arnold’s other films, though? Last Action Hero pales in comparison to literally any Arnold action film that came before it.
But I can only beat around the bush for so long — the main reason this movie is so irritating and annoying to me is that Danny, our golden ticket hero, is so damn irritating and annoying. And I just noticed that he’s also the main kid in Prehysteria! so my excitement to eventually catch up to that film in my Full Moon series has deflated considerably. Anyway, I hated him. Hate is a strong word, and I have nothing against Austin O’Brien, I just hated the character. He’s everything wrong about kids in action movies all rolled into one character. In this parody of the action film, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was actually by design. My child-self just wanted to see a Jack Slater film, and I have to agree with myself and say that not only would that have been a more entertaining film, it would have also solved the kid problem. What makes this all so irritating is that because we go inside Slater’s world we get to see a lot of what that movie would have been like, and damn it, I just want to see that movie!
I wish I could just turn the brain off and enjoy the film, but I can’t. I liked it well enough this time around, but I don’t really see myself ever revisiting this one by choice. Last Action Hero is a movie that is literally everything I hate about how the ’90s killed the fun of the ’80s, and there’s really no way for me to enjoy that. I didn’t understand that as a kid, but being even closer to those carefree times of badass muscle men blowing shit up, it makes sense that I would recoil in pure hatred. Even at 11 I was yearning for the fading good ol’ days, and I guess I always will be.
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger is James Cameron’s True Lies! See ya then!