Last Action Hero – 1993
Directed by John McTiernan
Written by Zak Penn & Adam Leff and Shane Black & David Arnott
Yet another film that tumbled into the pit of a poor marketing campaign.
Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) is a huge action movie fan, and his favorite series of them all is Jack Slater. Danny’s best friend Nick works at a movie theatre and is able to screen for him a copy of Jack Slater IV starring Arnold Schwarzenegger before it’s released. Nick also gives Danny a “magic ticket” that was given to him years ago by a magician. While Danny is watching the movie, the ticket begins to glow and suddenly Danny finds himself inside the movie…
Oh those heady days of 1993. I was in 8th grade and in the months leading up to June the big debate in the media was which was going to gross more: Jurassic Park or Last Action Hero. Schwarzenegger was just coming off of Terminator 2 and had cemented his place as the biggest draw in Hollywood and this was going to be his piece de resistance. Jurassic Park was adapted from a best-selling novel and had supposedly made great strides in the realm of computer generated effects. Everyone had taken sides. Each film had millions of dollars worth of merchandising items already made. McDonalds had landed Jurassic Park. Burger King was with Last Action Hero. Commercials were blanketing the TV. It was all leading up to a titanic battle.
And then…nothing. Jurassic Park opened on June 11 (I went from the last day of school straight to the theatre) and promptly grossed $50 million in its opening weekend, a completely unheard of amount at the time. There was supposedly a period of time where it was making $1 million an hour. Last Action Hero opened the following weekend on a then-record 2,500 movie screens and promptly fizzled, grossing only $15 million. It was seen as an abysmal failure and the beginning of the downward spiral that Arnold’s career is currently in. Last Action Hero was quickly dropped and the studio made no attempt to try and salvage it for the following weeks. The movie was forgotten as Jurassic Park racked up the dollars. But what really wasn't mentioned in the main wave of hype preceding it was that Last Action Hero was not a straight-up action flick, but a parody of action movies.
As Danny travels though the world of Jack Slater IV, he tries to prove to a deluded Jack Slater that they are not in the real world at all, but a cheesy action movie. Why are all the women gorgeous? Why do all the phone numbers start with “555”? How can all these bad guys be shooting at Jack and never hit him? He succeeds in pointing out almost every cliché there is, even the constant use of catchphrases and the presence of continuity errors. After Danny and Jack escape to the real world, Jack is much chagrined to find out that he has to deal with the laws of physics and the fact that he is not invincible. The film is also chock full of cameos. My favorite is Catherine Trammel and the T-1000 walking out of LAPD headquarters as Jack and Danny are walking in, Danny gives them a wide-eyed stare but Jack keeps on walking right past them. The best scene overall is as Danny sits in the police squad room and he watches completely mis-matched cops teamed up as partners. A German with a Hasidic Jew. A sloppy fat guy with a skinny prim woman. And finally, a strong-willed feminist with a smoking, foul-mouthed cartoon cat.
This film is wonderful in its concept, but flawed in its execution. The jokes veer from dead-on accurate to horrendously bad. Is this due to the two different teams of scriptwriters who worked on the project? As someone who revels in movie clichés and the various “rules” of different film genres, I found Last Action Hero to be pretty entertaining. There are enough precise observations for me to be able to overlook the many stupid ones. I have to give Schwarzenegger lots of credit for spending so much time and effort on a project that was essentially making fun of his whole career. He went out on a limb and paid the price for it. Overall Last Action Hero is a very bad action movie, but a so-so satire. If it had been pitched to the right audience it might have been a success.