31 January 2011 | CuriosityKilledShawn
An intelligent, under-rated and over-looked satire
It's sad to think that 18 years after its release Last Action Hero is still trying to find its target audience. Audiences don't like smart movies. Or perhaps I should say audiences don't like to be OUTSMARTED by movies. In the summer of 1993 the world was going crazy for a certain dinosaur movie, almost everything else didn't stand a chance. LAH came out a week after Jurassic Park. The only people who really went to see it were those who were too late for sold-out screenings of Spielberg's movie. Bad word of mouth spread for many reasons.
Those lucky enough to actually see it on the big screen walked away confused and disorientated. They thought they were in for a straight-up action movie, not an existential, meta-fictional parody of the genre they cherish. It was just too much and they weren't ready for it. Arnold had been riding the wave of Total Recall and Terminator 2 before the release of Last Action Hero, no one expected such a radical deviation from the norm.
Danny Madigan is a lonely kid living in a tiny New York apartment with his single MILF. His only friend is Nick, an old-time projectionist at a run down theater (a REAL theater, no multiplex nonsense). Danny likes to escape into the world of action movies, his biggest hero, obviously, being Arnie himself. The latest Arnie blockbuster, the simply-titled Jack Slater IV, is a day away from its premiere, and old Nick has been tasked with checking the print. Before Danny sits down for his own personal pre-premiere midnight screening Nick gives him a magical ticket he's been saving since childhood. Five minutes after Jack Slater IV begins Danny is warped into the cinema screen and becomes part of the movie.
In the movie world Danny quickly learns that the laws of physics and simple logic don't apply (how often has THAT proved to be true?). He's partnered with Slater, a renegade L.A. cop and the absolute zenith of action hero stereotypes, to find who killed his favorite second-cousin Frank (BIG MISTAKE!). Danny and Slater smash their way into a hokey, James Bond-ish plot, though it's not long before suave English henchman Mr. Benedict discovers Danny's secret and plans to escape to the real world. Danny and Slater follow, but Slater's movie-world abilities are rendered useless in reality. Doubt begins seep in for the first time as he ends up questioning his powers as a good cop.
Last Action Hero scores huge points all round. It's technically wonderful, with gorgeous anamorphic Panavision photography full of wide angles and lens flares. The writing is sharp is funny. Arnie is great as an infallible hero in crisis as well as making fun of his screen persona. And the action, both fictional and meta-fictional, is wild, overblown, and exciting. I just love Slater's huge fall from the elevator.
It's interesting to note that it has a lot in common with Loaded Weapon, which came out earlier that year. Both are send-ups of the 'L.A. cop movie' genre, both star F. Murray Abraham in supporting roles. Both feature Frank McRae as a screaming Lieutenant. Both have obvious Die Hard references (also directed by the infamous John McTiernan).
The bad reputation is unjustified. The financial loss was a mistake entirely on Sony's part and their lack of foresight into the 1993 summer season. Last Action Hero and Jurassic Park went head-to-head with their advertising but the dinosaur movie's marketing campaign was just too groundbreaking. They also competed with each other on a technical level. JP was the first film to feature DTS sound, while Last Action Hero was the first to feature SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound), an eight-channel system that delivers every decibel of Slater's big gun and the multiple explosions of his daily life.
It may be a satire, but Last Action Hero just may be one of the last true action films. Real stunts, real explosions, real destruction, reality gone twisted. It's Arnold's most subversive movie, and it's many things, but bad ain't one of them.