Do you guys remember how LAST ACTION HERO was the big ticket for ’93?
Okay, probly not. That was the tagline on some of the posters though. See, they knew this was destined to be a huge event movie, the movie of the summer. Fuck JURASSIC PARK. But also the plot involved a magical ticket that transports people between the worlds of reality and fiction. It’s a double meaning. They put alot of thought into this thing, just not the right kind maybe.
This is at least the third time I’ve watched and attempted to truly like this movie. That’s a strike out, so it’s time to sit on the bench and accept it as a kinda interesting, kinda terrible movie. Not as good as HUDSON HAWK but a bit of that same clever/awkward cocktail. Unique enough to keep coming back to, not good enough to be 100% sure it was worth it.
There’s plenty to like. It’s directed by John McTiernan, shot by Dean Semler (ROAD WARRIOR, APOCALYPTO) so it looks and feels big and cinematic. It’s doing meta before SCREAM, a character who gets magically transported into an Arnold Schwarzenegger action sequel and has to use his knowledge of movie tropes (and omniscient viewing of the opening scenes) to survive. But mostly they just make jokes about movie cheats like he gets covered in tar but then it easily cleans off him. It’s a kind of cool if silly premise that leads to some funny ideas and outrageous action that I’d be happy to see in a non-comedy.
JACK SLATER IV is “a Franco Columbu Film” (that’s one of Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding friends and frequent co-stars) but it could almost be Craig R. Baxley. Schwarzenegger as Slater drives his convertible recklessly across medians and lawns, into the L.A. River, firing bullets in every direction. Dynamite and axes fly at the camera like it’s supposed to be in 3D, cars flip and explode, he hangs from the sides of buildings, he has a slo-mo Hans Grueber fall but grabs onto a wrecking ball that swings him around before dumping him in the La Brea Tar Pits, there’s a pre-THE MATRIX helicopter vs. office building shootout, explosives are hidden in a glass eye and in a corpse, the second his car is smashed by a helicopter crash his daughter (Bridget “Sonya Blade” Wilson) shows up out of the blue in his weekend ride, a monster truck with flames painted on the side.
Unfortunately there are two major problems I have with this one. #1 has to do with the world of the movie and the execution of this premise. The idea is that a regular kid from the real world (Austin O’Brien) goes into a movie, so reality is different, people can get shot without getting very hurt, they don’t always have to relaod, cars instantly explode if one bullet hits them, all women look like models (they have Angie Everhart working at a Blockbuster Video), etc.
The trouble with this is that the “real world” part of the movie is such a load of movie horse shit. Come on, a kid who thinks about nothing but “Jack Slater” movies, who spends his nights in a huge, virtually empty, run down historic Times Square movie palace and is best friends with its sole employee, Robert Proskey, a wistful old man who adores old movies and tells stories about meeting Buffalo Bill and has a magic movie ticket that he knows is real but has never used that was given to him by Harry Houdini? In what way is this supposed to resemble the real world? We only know this type of warmed over nostalgia leftovers from watching bad movies.
A lesser sub-problem of #1, #1b, is that the movie world, while obviously meant to be exaggerated, doesn’t really seem much like actual movies that exist. Do we really believe in JACK SLATER, a franchise where Schwarzenegger just plays a cop, no high concept premise, no partner character, few series regulars? And it’s still popular in its fourth chapter, and at some point in the series they introduced an animated cat named Detective Whiskers (voice of Danny Devito) who appears in brief cameos?
What’s up with that? I mean it’s kinda funny because it’s so ridiculous, but it’s so out of place in a popular cop series that every time I watch it I start questioning how this premise is supposed to work. Everything about the narrative tells us that they are specifically inside the movie JACK SLATER IV. For example, later in the movie they’re worried that a bad guy has the ticket and can now go into other movies. He brags that he could go inside DRACULA or KING KONG. He gets a newspaper where his markings indicate that he has chosen JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (apparently in a wide re-release) over SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, SLEEPWALKERS, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA and JAGGED EDGE. Weirdly they never get to that part in the movie, but they do have Death (Ian McKellan) step out of Ingmar Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL into New York City.
So yes, it is clear, the ticket transports you into the world of a specific movie. Except then he walks past Robert Patrick as the T-1000, which I believe is a character from the movie TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY and not from JACK SLATER IV. Correct me if I’m wrong. And there is this cartoon cat, who either has also wandered from another movie or is a character in this series. How does this work again?
I don’t know, maybe the various people working on the movie never came to an agreement about the rules of the world here. It seems inconsistent. And just the little details of how things work don’t always seem to make sense. For example, why would a magic ticket that has been torn in half and placed into the ticket box be able to be taken out and used for other movies? That’s not how a ticket has ever worked. At the very least if you’re able to re-use it it should only be the stub, the part you retain. It shouldn’t be both halves. What kind of fuckin amateur hour magical ticket creator is this Houdini chump anyway.
Main Problem #2, I’m sorry to say, is the kid. Normally I would not accept a kid who is not wearing a Public Enemy t-shirt and is not destined to lead the humans in an uprising against the machines tell Arnold what to do. But I understand that this is not meant as a real action movie, and it’s got that gimmick, it would be weirder if it was an adult magically going into the movie and joining up with Arnold. So it makes sense that it stars a kid. But this is not one of the better kid heroes, even though the script by Zak Penn (X2-3) & Adam Leff (PCU, BIO-DOME) was heavily rewritten by Shane Black (& David Arnott [THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE]), who wrote good kids for MONSTER SQUAD and I arguably IRON MAN THREE.
As usual I feel bad criticizing a child actor, I gotta hold McT and the script responsible for not getting a natural performance but instead one of these kids who talks and thinks like a fake movie adult, saying little wise ass quips, using phrases like “follow my lead” and making generalizations about movie conventions the way only fake people in movies do and not real people who like movies, especially when they’re kids. (I’m glad he likes DIE HARD though.)
Actually this brings up a strange aspect. By making this movie about a kid who loves Arnold Schwarzenegger action movies, they were acknowledging that in that era violent R-rated movies like T2, PREDATOR and DIE HARD were seen and loved by kids, not just people over 17. Either parents brought them there or they were able to sneak in or they had an abandoned magical place with a whimsical old projectionist guy who let them in.
But then after showing that in the movie itself they still felt because it was for kids they had to make their Arnold Schwarzenegger movie PG-13. I’m not saying it holds the movie back, I don’t believe that, but I just think it’s funny that the kid specifically points out that they’re inside a PG-13 movie, as if admitting that this is actually one of his comedies like TWINS and KINDERGARTEN COP.
If I may I would like to take a moment to apply particular disdain to the reaction shots of the kid watching the movies. He always has a big smile on his face and reacts to each thing that happens. Almost as if he knows he’s being watched and is not actually watching something. He makes you embarrassed to be a movie fan. Jesus, I hope I don’t make that big a show of enjoying an Arnold movie.
Somebody should’ve told this kid if you’re gonna play “enjoying a violent movie” way too broad then there’s only one correct way to do it:
But I guess the reason I keep coming back is because I remember the funny parts. Arnold gets to say a parody one-liner that in my opinion would be an absolute classic real one-liner (“Hey, you wanna be a farmer? Here’s a couple of achers.” [kicks in balls]). The sort of hacky joke trailer for an action HAMLET starring Schwarzenegger is worth it to hear him quip “To be, or not to be? Not to be.” And there are funny concepts like Slater always has his life scored with rockin guitars, so when he’s in the real world and hears Mozart for the first time it blows his mind. Also I laughed when Professor Toru Tanaka, in his capacity as a henchman, asks the boss if he wants him to vacuum. I’m sure as a henchman there’s alot of down time where you gotta find something to do, you know?
But then I start wondering why a fake henchman in the fake world has a real world human moment like that, and why did I miss when a henchman (Charles Dance) became the boss and has this henchman, and wouldn’t it work without these extra cartoony jokes like the mobster named “The Fart” and at his funeral every single person, especially old ladies, pulls out a gun and points it at Slater? Ha ha get it old ladies with guns.
But you know what, don’t let me end this on a negative note. This movie is a mess, but I’m glad it exists. There are so many other forgettable movies that maybe are technically better or not as bad but that contribute less to the world. I was gonna give a specific example of another movie that came out around the same time that is totally forgettable, but at least in the action genre there were some pretty good ones that came out that summer: CLIFFHANGER, IN THE LINE OF FIRE, THE FUGITIVE, HARD TARGET, ONLY THE STRONG. I don’t know, ANOTHER STAKEOUT? Is that less worthy of existing than LAST ACTION HERO? I can’t claim to really remember if that’s good or not.
Anyway I’m sure some of you are gonna tell me it’s a misunderstood classic, and I can’t say I will ever agree with you, but I’m glad you get more out of it than I do. Here are some pictures of the LAST ACTION HERO crap they made when they thought it was gonna be a movie that people would see and enjoy. Also there is a pinball machine.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.