Friday, October 3, 2014

Last Action Hero Review

Back in the year 1993, a phenomenal movie was released and became a classic movie and one of the director's best known films. I am, of course, talking about Jurassic Park. The very next week after Jurassic Park hit theaters another movie was released called Last Action Hero. Most of its audiences were people who were going to see Jurassic Park but tickets were sold out, leaving them to settle for Last Action Hero. Critics also gave Last Action Hero predominantly negative reviews, and with good reason; as a piece of fiction it is pretty lousy, but as a ridiculous comedy that satirizes action films it's golden.
Young Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brian) is a big fan of Jack Slater, a larger-than-life action hero played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. When his best friend, Nick the projectionist (Art Carney), gives Danny a magic ticket to the new Jack Slater film, Danny is transported into Slater's world, where the good guys always win. One of Slater's enemies, Benedict the hit man, gets hold of the ticket and ends up in Danny's world, where he realizes that if he can kill the real Arnold Schwarzenegger, Slater will be no more. Slater and Danny leave the movie to stop Benedict, but movie rules don't apply in the real world and with Benedict bringing villains from other movies to the real world can he be stopped?
Last Action Hero was before its time. Before Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, or Zombieland, there was Last Action Hero. This movie takes the quintessential movie star of that era and put him in a spoof of his own genre. For all the roles Schwarzenegger has played, he has a non-existent range. He's good at squinting, smirking, and standing up while keeping his back straight, but not as convincing as the viewer that he's anyone other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's incapable of disappearing into a role, instead of becoming a character, the character becomes him. That ends up being the central punch line of most of his comedies; it's funny to see him do something un- Schwarzeneggerian. That tends to make his comedies pretty bad.
Last Action Hero fails as fiction because the movie didn't properly distinguish between the real world and the world of the movie-within-the-movie and never defined the parameters of either. For instance, after Danny gets sucked into the fictional Schwarzenegger movie Jack Slater IV, he discovers that characters from other movies, like Terminator 2: Judgment Day's T-1000 (a cameo by Robert Patrick), also inhabit this universe. But if the T-1000 is a real person in the movie-within-the-movie, then why does the actual film Terminator 2 also exist in the same world (albeit starring Sylvester Stallone)? If Jack Slater loses his invulnerability upon entering Danny's "real" world, then why do other movies characters such as Death (Ian McKellen) from The Seventh Seal retain their powers after being freed from their movie? And why does Danny's world seem so fake and saturated with in-jokes and movie references as Jack Slater IV?
Because everything is so malleable, the humor no longer rests in the violation of rules (which don't seem to exist) or screen personas, but in the imaginative co-mingling of intentional crassness and non-logic. Danny is transported into Jack Slater IV in the middle of a car chase. Slater shoots a bad guy, who gets thrown into an ice cream truck, which then promptly explodes. Cue another bad guy keeling over, with an ice cream cone lodged in the back of his head. "I iced that guy," says Slater, before adding "To cone a phrase." That's just hilarious, not so much because it satirizes a trope, but because of a complex interaction of intentionally unreal and parody elements of things we recognize and things that ignore both common sense and physics.
A lot of the humor is like this. It further goes on to satirize action tropes. Once in the real world, Benedict tries to lure Slater by killing someone. In the movies, this usually attracts the hero to start a fight. But even when shouting to the neighborhood that he's shot someone, nothing happens. Slater also is confused that there are no obvious clues left behind by henchmen as to where the bad guys can be found. A lot of movies are parodied or referenced in this movie including Die Hard, Hamlet, The Wizard of Oz, E.T., Blade Runner, Amadeus, both Terminator movies, The Nightmare on Elm Street, Witness, Lethal Weapon, Rambo III, Total Recall, and many others. Not to mention the many action movie star cameos.
One thing that makes a good movie good, is that it sets up rules and then breaks them. Take Jurassic Park; the rules are that barriers protect visitors from dinosaurs and that the dinosaurs can't reproduce. These rules are deliberately broken ("life finds a way"), and it makes the story interesting. Last Action Hero can't accomplish that because what makes it special also dooms it; though it satirizes narrative rules, it never completely adheres to one, making the movie's "reality" all wonky. It goes from a fictional reality to a real fiction to a fictional fiction to a cartoon-like narrative and then back to the fictional reality again. It makes for a weak story that is hard to take seriously as a piece of writing. But the satire of action movies is really quite entertaining.
Last Action Hero is technically not a good movie any way you look at it. The special effects weren't even that good for its day. The humor is often weird but still earns lots of laughs. The satire is strange and yet so poignant and interesting that it makes the movie a lot more fun than it should. I highly recommend seeing Last Action Hero, especially if you're a movie buff. It's fun and much more intelligently written than it seems to realize. I think this oft-overlooked movie deserves to be rediscovered.

Here's the trailer to give you more of a feel for movie's satire:

What is your favorite movie satire? Comment below and let me know!

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