- Directed and Produced by John McTiernan
- June 13, 1993 (Westwood) / June 18, 1993 (United States)
A magical ticket transports a young film fan into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest movie-Jack Slater IV, but when Jack’s nemesis in that movie gets ahold of the magic ticket things get out of hand. Now the screens toughest cop must confront reality (literally) to stop the bad guy and finally chart his own destiny.
Schwarzenegger was the king of the action genre for quite some time. Stallone was up there but his films lacked the Ahnuld magic. I dare say many action film fans still think of Schwarzenegger as the pinnacle of the action star despite the quality of his current work no longer being what it was. This movie came out at the end of his box office reign, and Last Action Hero does a great job of lovingly taking jabs at his use of one-liners (which everybody did in the genre at the time) and the sheer superhuman nature of his characters as well as the general clichés of the action film itself.
The Jack Slater character (Schwarzenegger) is the action hero cop with a crazy ex-wife and a wild child daughter which one would expect from the action films of the time. As a bit of an inversion of things what we learn though is that the “crazy ex-wife” who calls the police station every now and then is actually a cashier he pays. And how did that come about if the character is formed just by what is on the screen as his comedic sidekick seemed surprised by the revelation.
Slater is haunted by the death of his son from the previous film. In that movie his opponent is a deformed serial killer called the Slasher (Tom Noonan). During the climax of THAT film Slater shoots the Slasher and in one final blow to the hero he grabs his son and pulls him off the rain-soaked roof as he fell. That is a little dark actually and such a thing was situated early in the films of the era so that the apparently dead villain could comeback in a shocking way.
Slater’s comedic sidekick in his latest adventure (because there was always a comedic sidekick at the time) is a kid from the real world named Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) whose father has recently passed. Movies are his escape, and he is thrilled at a chance to check out the latest Jack Slater film at a test screening of the reel before anybody else. This becomes especially so when he is attacked in his apartment while his mother (Mercedes Ruehl) is at work.
Danny is given apparently free access by the projectionist (Robert Prosky) to the world’s shittiest theater. He comes and goes as he pleases and gets to see all the newest releases during test screenings.
There are series of cameos or mentions in this film which serve to highlight that this is a film within a film. Franco Columbu, good friend to Schwarzenegger, is mentioned as the director of Jack Slater IV in the fake film’s opening credits. Sylvester Stallone is shown on a poster at a video rental store (remember those?) as the Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
In the climax of Jack Slater III Tina Turner appears as the mayor of LA. Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick appear outside the front door of the movie version of the LAPD as Catherine Tramell from Basic Instinct and the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In a nod to unrealistic casting, model/actress Angie Everhart shows up as a video store clerk in the same store they spot the T2 poster in.
Joan Plowright plays Danny’s English teacher in a sequence where Danny daydreams about Ahnuld in a screen version of Hamlet. Laurence Olivier directed the 1948 version she is showing to the class and was Plowright’s husband. Very meta.
In the finale of Last Action Hero which takes place at the premiere of Jack Slater IV a handful of individuals show up as themselves. Schwarzenegger and his then-wife Maria Shriver, Little Richard, Entertainment Tonight host Leeza Gibbons, Jim Belushi, Damon Wayans, Chevy Chase and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Tom Noonan, who appears as the Ripper in Jack Slater III, appears as himself and the Ripper character at the premiere. At the premier MC Hammer, mistaking Slater for Ahnuld, asks Slater about doing the Jack Slater V soundtrack.
Travel between worlds is facilitated by the use of a magic golden which struck me as a clear nod to Willie Wonka. In some versions of the Last Action Hero script, one of which was worked on by Carrie Fisher herself, there was no clear explanation on how it happened. I somewhat agree with that, but it leaves me confused as to how the fictional characters would figure out how to travel.
When I saw Last Action Hero in theaters back in the day, I was just wowed by Charles Dance as the main film’s villain Benedict, who is a supporting antagonist to the secondary film’s villain Vivaldi (Anthony Quinn). At the time I had no idea who Dance was, but he was just so perfectly over the top evil as the villain with the ever-changing glass eye. He was a smart action movie villain who was straight up evil and those are 10 times better than the bad guys who easily fell into the usual traps. I am so glad his career endured and blossomed.
I know this film has its detractors, but I enjoyed it. It is a fun send up of the action genre of the time as well as the screen persona of Arnold Schwarzenegger. This film hangs a lantern on so many action clichés of the era such as abrupt scene changes, the hero surviving things like explosions where others die, and the ever popular what should have been a serious wound but turns out to be minor.
Last Action Hero does the latter in an interesting fashion. After Jack and Danny chase Benedict into the real world they get involved in the inevitable final confrontation and in the real-world Jack is seriously wounded. Danny realizes the only way to save him is to get them back in the movie because this serious injury will turn out to be relatively minor.
In a nod to The Seventh Seal, directed by Ingmar Bergman, Death (here played by Ian McKellen/originally played by Bengt Ekerot) is accidentally pulled from the film and says that Jack is not on his list and suggests they find the other ticket half.
I give credit to Schwarzenegger for being willing to poke fun at himself at the time. He understood what he was and was willing to take her loving jabs at it. He understood that more often than not he was making entertainment and not high art. This however was a bit of an attempt to do both.
Reportedly Schwarzenegger wanted this film delayed by a few weeks to have better financial results, but the producers turned a deaf ear to that. And that is unfortunate. I think with a delay and perhaps a little judicious editing, this would have been much better received at the time. As it is it got several Golden Raspberry nominations and was not too well received by critics. Perhaps because of an early test screening and the studio’s reaction which the studio reacted poorly to.
People who hate this movie are people incapable of experiencing joy when watching a movie. They just cannot relax and be entertained. Everything must be continuously thought through about every scene. Last Action Hero is action-packed, clever, and hilarious. This movie has it all and that includes one of the best Schwarzenegger one liners ever.
Slater realizes just how ridiculous his life is but since it is his reality it appears logical. He notes the “crazy adventures” he keeps finding himself in. During the course of the story Jack at first disbelieves what Danny says. But as things move along he is devastated to learn that the things he has suffered have occurred at the whims of some writer. By the end though Jack comes to embrace his situation and decides to chart his own course.
There was a time director John McTiernan was on his way to a legendary career. If he had continued on that trajectory this film would have been a fondly looked upon blip in an otherwise great filmography. As it is though it is still looked fondly upon. It is not perfect, but its flaws are minor. There is nothing that I can think of harms the film. My only gripe is Whiskers, the cartoon cat police detective, voiced by Danny DeVito. That was a step too far but nothing that ultimately brought the film down.
Perhaps the movie audience just was not (and some still are not) ready for a loving mockery of the silliness of action films. Audiences still flock to see them and much of what is made fun of here is still done today. Or perhaps it is the stars and studio executives that pump these out that are hesitant.
Last Action Hero is a fun and enjoyable gentle poking of the genre of the time. It has fun with its concept, and you will enjoy yourself so I say watch it.