January 4, 2014

Last Action Hero (1993)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O'Brien, and Charles Dance

Comments:   Between the years 1984 and 1993, Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest sure things in the history of Hollywood.  Nearly EVERY one of his movies was a hit.  Every one of his action movies was a really big deal.  Heck, all of you have to do is say "Arnold Schwarzenegger movie", and if a person grew up in the 80's or 90's they know exactly what genre of movie you are talking about.  Arnold Schwarzenegger movies were big.  They were loud.  They were badass.  And they were hits.  Every time.  People loved them.

Enjoys the lamentations of your women

And then, of course, we come to 1993.  And Last Action Hero.

The first Arnold Schwarzenegger bomb.

The movie that not only ended his string of some of the greatest and most beloved action movies in the history of Hollywood, but the movie that pretty much killed his reputation as the #1 movie star in the world.  Yes, if you read interviews with Arnold Schwarzenegger about the movies he has made over the course of his career, go read his comments about Last Action Hero some time.  Check out how bitter he is that this movie was a flop.  In fact, I have seen him come right out and say it in a couple of interviews.  On a couple of occasions he has said "Last Action Hero was the movie that made me realize that I didn't want to be an actor anymore."

Because this movie bombed, and because it bombed so loudly and so famously, Arnold Schwarzenegger would never again be the presence that he was prior to 1993.  After 1993, as an action star, he would only be a shadow of himself.

Is going to ask you a bunch of questions.  Would appreciate if you answered immediately.

But here is the thing.   Last Action Hero wasn't a flop.   Nope.  I mean, if you go on the internet and you look at its box office, it actually made a pretty good profit.  And if you go through the comments at the Internet Movie Database, it seems like practically everyone who has seen it loves it.  In fact, I can't think of another movie that I have seen called "underrated" as often as Last Action Hero is called underrated in the IMDB user comments.

So it made a good profit.  It isn't a bad movie at all.  People talk about it glowingly today as one of those long lost movies that they love, but most of their friends have never even heard of before.  It is one of those movies that is just sitting out there, waiting for an entire new generation to discover it and realize how fun it is.

Yet its reputation persists.  Even to this day.  It is still called "one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history:"  Its name is still throw out there in the same sentence as movies like Gigli, or Ishtar.

And that is not even remotely fair.

Sure, Last Action Hero isn't the best movie that Arnold Schwarzenegger ever made.  But it sure isn't the worst one.  It's not even close to the worst one.  In my opinion, this is a movie that is so clever, and was so far ahead of its time, that movie audiences in 1993 just weren't ready for it yet.

Probably for this reason.  This isn't an action movie, it is a comedy.

Yes, and right there, that is the reason why this movie never caught on like the other big Schwarzenegger Action Movies all caught on.  Last Action Movie isn't an action movie at all.  It is a satire of action movies.    It is much closer to something like Pleasantville, or Rustler's Rhapsody, than it is to Predator.  And that is the variable that I don't think audiences were ready for when this movie came out in 1993.  They went into it expecting the Terminator, and they were shocked that what they got was Galaxy Quest.  

Simply put, this is a fucking brilliant parody of action movies and action movie cliches (and Schwarzenegger movies in general), and I don't think that Arnold's audience wanted to see that from him right at peak of his career.

I love this shot.  Very few movies have as many background gags as Last Action Hero.

Last Action Hero is the story of a boy named Danny Madigan.

Danny, as played by Austin O'Brien

Danny loves movies, and he spends every waking minute of his day skipping school and heading down to watch movies at the local movie theater.  In particular, he loves to go to the movies to watch his all time favorite movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  As you can see, we are already heading in the direction of "a movie within a movie" here.

Danny at the movies, ready for the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger movie

Well at this point in his career, Arnold is playing an action hero named Jack Slater.  And as you can guess, Jack Slater movies are the biggest thing in Hollywood at the moment.  Just like every other Schwarzenegger movie, Jack Slater movies are big, they are loud, they are dumb, and they are fun.  And Danny can't get enough of them.  He -loves- watching Jack Slater movies.  He loves every big dumb loud implausible thing about them.  Movies like this are what kids like Danny were made for.

Jack Slater driving through walls and blowing shit up and never getting injured, because the good guy in a movie can never get injured

Okay, so a lot of stuff happens in Danny's life that I am going to gloss over because you have to watch the movie to understand it, but in the end what happens is that one day Danny gets a present from his friend Nick.  You see, Nick runs the theater that Danny hangs out in every day.  And he knows how much Danny loves movies.  So one day Nick gives him an item that he once received as a gift from Mr. Harry Houdini.  

It is a magical ticket.

And it grants a person the power to put himself right in a movie.

Nick giving Danny the magic ticket

Danny doesn't believe that the ticket is real at first.  At first, he thinks it is just a prop that some confused old guy was holding onto.

But just when he doesn't think it is real, that is when the magic happens.

Danny is sucked right into the movie.  And all of a sudden he is a comedy sidekick in the latest Jack Slater movie.

Now, of course you have seen movies like this before.  Somebody gets sucked into the TV world or the movie world, and all sorts of chaos ensues when they know that they are living in a movie world but nobody else does.  I mean, come on, it was no accident that I compared Last Action Hero to Pleasantville a couple of paragraphs ago.  You might as well have called this movie Pleasantville version 1.0, because it came out a good five years before Pleasantville.  In fact, in many ways, it is the exact same thing.

It is also very similar to Scream, Galaxy Quest, uh let's see, what else?  The Matrix?  Yep.  There is also a lot of The Matrix in Last Action Hero.  Where one person can control the realities of the world around him and nobody else can figure out why.  

Again, Last Action Hero came out way before any of these other movies, and they all have the exact same premise.  Only because this one was first, and because Arnold Schwarzenegger audiences weren't ready for a subtly wicked comedy from their beloved action hero, that is why it was considered a flop.  And to be honest, it kind of pisses me off.  It has always pissed me off.  Shit, if you like any of those other movies (especially Galaxy Quest and Pleasantville), you will appreciate Last Action Hero.  It is the Exact!  Same!  Thing!

Danny explaining to Jack that good guys never have to reload their guns.  Because this is a movie.  And that everything he shoots he will always blow up.

Okay, so Danny winds up in a Schwarzenegger movie.  And as you can guess, all the Schwarzenegger action movie cliches are there.  The corny one liners.  The stereotypical characters.  The cardboard cutout bad guys.  The explosions.  The fact that the good guys can never get hurt.  The rock music soundtrack.  Danny starts telling Jack exactly what is going to happen to him every single step of the way.  And of course Jack has no idea that he is in a movie, so he spends every waking minute arguing with Danny that this is real world, and that this is the way that things have always worked.

And that yes, every phone number here can possibly start with 555.  Because Los Angeles has something called area codes.

I am not going to give away the entire plot of Last Action Hero, because I really do love this movie and I really do think it got a bum deal where it first came out in 1993.  Like I said, it really was ahead of its time.  It is a really funny movie.  And it has some wonderful little inside movie jokes.

Like this one.  Danny walks into LAPD Headquarters and he passes the T-1000 robot from Terminator 2.  You have to look quick though.

Oh and here is maybe the funniest scene in any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie ever.  Danny is so convinced that he is in a movie, and that Arnold Schwarzenegger is only an actor, that he drags Jack down to the local Blockbuster Video store to show him the evidence.  And that is where he is faced with this little prop, which never fails to make me laugh.  And which got a huge pop from the audience when I saw this in the theater back in 1993.

What the fuck?  Sylvester Stallone was the Terminator??

Arnold in the background:  "He was great in that!  It was his best role!"

Side note:   One of my favorite things about action movies in the 90's was the constant one-upmanship between Stallone and Schwarzenegger.  They were -constantly- taking digs at each other in their movies.  This T2 gag in Last Action Hero was a direction response to Stallone making fun of Schwarzenegger being president in Demolition Man.  I loved when they used to do stuff like that in movies.

Another great Last Action Hero moment.  Danny pointing out that Arnold is going to say "I'll be back" right before he says it.

Is Last Action Hero perfect?  No, of course not.  It is a little too long for its own good, and it drags a bit in the middle during a subplot at a mob funeral.  However it has some fantastic scenes, and it has some amazing plot twists.  Culminating in Arnold and Danny jumping back and forth from movies into the real world and back again.  Where Jack learns that when you punch a window in the real world, or you play chicken with your car, you crash and it hurts.

And that sometimes in the real world, you might actually miss

Oh and of course I can't leave out this fun little gag right towards the end of the movie.

Jack Slater meets the douchy Arnold Schwarzenegger.  And he tells Arnold to fuck off.

I can't end this review without pointing out that, aside from all the wonderful little inside movie jokes, Last Action Hero also has two great villains in it.  In fact whenever I talk about this movie with people, the villains are almost always what people remember about it.

First you have Charles Dance as Benedict, the assassin with the ever rotating glass eye


And then you have Jack's nemesis, The Ripper.  Played by a delightfully creepy Tom Noonan.

The Ripper

The Ripper and Danny

The Ripper and Benedict are just part of the wacky adventure that Danny and Jack Slater share through the movie world and the real world, and at this point that is really all I want to say about this movie.  Other than to say that Last Action Hero is a personal favorite that in -no way- should have been as hated as it was, and I would probably put it in my top five Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.  I couldn't possibly put it as my #1, because True Lies is without question my all time favorite Schwarzenegger movie.  But still, there is something to be said about a movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger is constantly making fun of his own name and repeatedly referring to himself as "Arnold Braunschweiger."  I mean, come on.  That's funny.

Say your prayers, Braunschweiger

Last Action Hero.  A movie that was considered a huge flop at the time (indeed, it was considered one of the all time biggest flops) but I have no doubt it will one day develop a strong cult following and a devoted legion of fans.  In fact, if you look around the IMDB it seems like it already has.  It is a movie that was so far ahead of its time and so far ahead of its theme that audiences in 1993 just weren't ready for it yet.   But people are ready for it now, so I suggest you track down a copy and you give it a chance.  Like I said, it is a little too long for its own good, but the good stuff in Last Action Hero is -really- good.  And as a bonus, it even features a cameo by M.C. Hammer.  Who doesn't love Hammer?

Hammer Time

By the way, I saw Last Action Hero with my parents on opening night in 1993.  And if you had told me this movie was going to be a flop that night, I never would have believed it.  In fact, I still don't believe it.  I laughed my ass off.  In fact, I showed it to my wife for the first time a couple of days ago, and I was curious what she was going to say about it since she hates Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and she hates action movies even more.  

My wife's review of Last Action Hero?   Well it's still not her thing, but for what it was she thought it was funny.  She laughed out loud a couple of times.  And she thought it was impressive that Arnold actually had to act.  It is one of the only movies in his career where he actually had to act, and she said he actually did a pretty good job in it.

Trust me, coming from my wife that is like her saying that an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie is Citizen Kane.  That's high praise.

Happy New Year from the Ripper

P.S.  Oh yeah, want to know the main reason Last Action Hero flopped?  Well it opened a week after Jurassic Park. That sure didn't help.

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Last Action Hero:

If you get the joke, you'll love it. If you don't, then stay away.  - 11 April 2010
There was this actor called Arnold Schwarzenegger, see. He was Austrian, and he wasn't actually that good an actor, but he was very impressive physically and had tremendous screen presence. As a result he ended up making a string of action movies which traded on that presence: they grew in popularity until he became the top box office draw in the world.

And, when he was at the height of his popularity, he made Last Action Hero.

In Last Action Hero, Schwarzenegger plays Jack Slater, who is exactly the sort of character Schwarzenegger plays. Oh, and himself.

The main character is young Danny Madigan, who finds himself in possession of a magic cinema ticket which takes him into Jack Slater's movie world. It also enables both Slater and Slater film villain Benedict to come into the real world, where the rules are somewhat different - bullet wounds can be fatal, and villains sometimes win.

This film is original, visually great fun, and is full - crammed, absolutely jam-packed - with movie-based gags and references.

I saw it when it first came out, and I loved every second of it. I was absolutely mystified at the negativity towards it at the time, and I could only put it down to people simply not getting it.

So the verdict is - if you get the joke, you'll love it (and familiarity with a lot of movies, particularly from the action genre). If you don't, then stay away.

Arnold and Danny explore literary theory - 10 April 2005
I remembered going to see this movie when I was about 8, and taking it quite seriously. Now I am about twenty and last night, after much trepidation, I put the disc into my DVD player to see it again after about nine years. It was a completely different film than what I remembered. You know what the man says about not being able to cross the same river twice?

Most obvious was the shockingly corny "action movie" sequence. I could remember things like the women wearing funny clothes, people not being able to say cuss words, the hero always winning, etc. But now, having seen over the years so many Miami Vices, Lethal Weapons, and Die Hards, not to mention the "traffic thriller" scenes in Terminator 3, I realize "Hey, they're making fun of it!" (They killed my favorite second cousin. Big mistake!) It was always obvious that Arnold was going to meet the characters that he played, but at the time I first saw it I didn't realize the deeper meaning to all that. (Mom wouldn't let me go see very many action films)

The film doesn't work for some people because it slips from action parody into literary criticism too easily. They should have spent more time in the real world at the beginning to highlight difference between the real world and the "fairy tale" world of Jack Slater. There were alot of things I'd forgotten about when they come back. Arnold --"I've never just sat down and talked to a women. It feels good." "I like classical music."

The crux of the movie comes when Death from "Seven Seals" walks up to Jack and Danny in the theater. The moral: the hardships of life come to us all, but not in the movies. In the movies everything is OK.

Delightful Spoof - 20 September 2007
I continue to foist this film off on my friends, demanding that they watch it. Some actually do. And generally they agree with me that it is far better than they expected it to be---which pleases me to no end.

If there is one moment in the film that is not to be missed it is when Arnie confronts himself (as his alter-ego Jack Slater) and is faced with a less than enthusiastic response. This is a perfect summation of the "real-vs-fantasy" motif of the film.

The running gags, the spoofing of the Action genre, the ridiculous ending and how Arnie manages to play it all with such a deadly seriousness makes this a completely delightful comedy. Surprise!

Tell me, why is this a bad movie again? - 7 October 2013
I saw this movie advertised online and decided to check it out. What I expected was another Arnold-style shoot 'em up. In short, I was COMPLETELY unprepared for what this movie served up.

This is not a serious action film. It is definitely an action picture, but not one that is meant to be taken seriously. This is an action film that spends about 3/4 of its time laughing at everything it has: the explosions, the car chases, the silly lines, the unbelievably cliché characters, ANYTHING that makes an Arnold movie an Arnold movie. While it does take a little while to get off the ground, the first bit spent establishing just how boring and scary the real world is, the movie sucks us in (literally) and takes us on a joyride through the explode-happy world of Jack Slater, the most stereotypical of loose cannon cops right down to consistently being yelled at by his boss for saving the day.

This movie is 100% self-aware of how over-the-top it is. It flat out refuses to take itself seriously. It even provides us with a slightly annoying but ultimately laughable comedy sidekick to point out the inside jokes when we are too busy recovering from shell-shock to notice them. Why did it tank at the box office? Well, I guess because it set itself up as a metaphysical action movie rather than a satire/parody of action movies in general (even Hamlet, which is labeled "The First Action Hero" by this movie). Yes, it's Arnold. Yes, it's an incredibly surreal picture. But that's all part of the fun. And if you choose to take it seriously, you're going to have a bad time.

A little confused, but very fun and totally under-rated. - 2 June 2004
LAST ACTION HERO went down in the books as a notorious, hopeless bomb, putting it in the same company as films like HUDSON HAWK, BATTLEFIELD EARTH, and GIGLI. And although it was a huge financial dissapointment back in 1993, this film stands head and shoulders above those other stinkers, and has certainly found an appreciative audience over time. Perhaps it wouldn't have earned such awful word-of-mouth had it not been advertised and released as a straightforward action film. No doubt 1993 audiences were expecting a TERMINATOR- or TRUE LIES-style adventure. Instead, LAST ACTION HERO is fairly misleading, and it shifts tones pretty dramatically, from a free-wheeling action adventure, to something much more dramatic, set in the "real world", and back and forth again. This can be quite jarring upon a first viewing, and certainly unappealing for anybody who doesn't enjoy Hollywood satire. Eleven years later, the American public is a little more film-industry-savvy (its seems like every Mom and Pop follows the salary rumors and box office races these days), and may appreciate the insider jokes a little more. If you prepare yourself for a cheeky spoof- and DONT expect TOTAL RECALL!- you'll definitely find LAST ACTION HERO better than you remember.

Funny, comedic look at action blockbusters - 30 May 2010
People didn't get this movie back in the day. Back in 1993, Arnold was fresh off of 'Terminator 2: Judgement Day' and everything else would pale in comparison. But this is a different type of movie altogether.

The fact is, this movie is a funny look at the action movie genre, of which Arnold was the king of at the time. The one-liners, which people panned, were meant to be corny. "Big Mistake" is part of the fun. Many action movies had famous one-liners at that time, and this was the homage to that.

The jokes about never running out of bullets, flesh wounds, cleaning tar off quickly, people showing up coincidentially, police coming as a person is shot, are all easily verifiable as action movie staples from the time and earlier.

Watch it with this in mind, and you'll see that it's a great movie for what it is intended to be, and that's a comedic look at the action genre. Enjoy it for what it is, not what it isn't.


Last Action Hero at the IMDB

Last Action Hero at Wikipedia

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