Last Action Hero

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment

Mar 06, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Teenage Danny Madigan spends his days skipping class to catch b-movie matinees at the seedy movie theaters which used to line Manhattan’s 42nd Street. He’s the world’s biggest fan of Jack Slater, an action hero played by Arnold Schwarzenegger who’s a badass, wise-cracking hybrid of Dirty Harry and pretty much every action hero ever portrayed by Arnie himself. Handed a magical ticket by the theater’s doddering projectionist, Danny finds himself sucked inside Jack Slater’s world of car chases, explosions, and epic shootouts.

If you’re a fan of over-the-top, ‘80s tough guy action films, Last Action Hero can be an exhilaratingly frustrating movie. There are so many moments where it flashes the potential to have been an essential classic, only to fumble it all away when it loses track of its sense of humor. When the movie is poking fun at (and leaning into) all of the cliché action movie tropes, it’s one of the smartest, funniest, and most dead-on parodies any action fan could hope for. But, the movie seems to forget for stretches what it meant to be and falls into the same traps as the movies it throws shade at. When it’s trying to be funny, Last Action Hero is an incredibly fun meta-examination of the sort of cheese that Arnold Schwarzenegger built his career upon. When it takes itself too seriously, it’s just a bad Arnie movie.

Last Action Hero is so much fun while we’re in any of the movies-within-the-movie. (We’d pay to see the feature-length versions of any of the fake movie snippets seen in the film, especially the action movie spin on Hamlet.) These scenes strive to nail every little detail of the genre, from the painfully forced one-liners all the way down to the female background characters needlessly being cast with supermodels. Unfortunately, the movie takes a turn midway where the characters from the movie’s world are transported into the real world, and the comedy is seriously dialed down in favor of a far less interesting and more straight-forward action story in which Danny and Slater have to save the world from an escaped cinematic lunatic. Compared to the first half of the film, none of this is as playful as what came before.

There’s plenty of reason behind Last Action Hero’s faults. The original screenplay by Zak Penn and Adam Leff primarily took place within Jack Slater’s world, but was re-written by Shane Black and David Arnott to the point where Penn and Leff were only given story credit. The movie’s post-production had to be heavily truncated to meet its release date, and so the editing especially feels like a rush job: on one hand it feels 30 minutes too long, while on the other characters and story threads that feel like they were meant to play a bigger role in the film disappear almost entirely. Furthermore, Sony had the balls to release their intended blockbuster the weekend after Jurassic Park was scheduled to hit theaters, even when that movie was projected to set new box office records. Last Action Hero was buried behind Spielberg’s dinosaur juggernaut, only to become a semi-forgotten flop.

Still, Last Action Hero works just as much as it doesn’t, and there’s more than enough in there to make it worth revisiting for any ‘80s and ‘90s action fan. The amount of talent that dipped their fingers into the pot somewhere is nothing less than astounding, from the aforementioned Penn and Black to director John McTiernan of Die Hard and Predator fame and uncredited script doctoring work by the late, great William Goldman. It’s also one of the most cameo-tastic movies of the early ‘90s, featuring blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances by Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jim Belushi, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Damon Wayans, MC Hammer, Ian McKellen, and Tina Turner, as well as a memorable voice-only role for Danny Devito. The movie’s main villain is played by Tywin Lannister-to-be Charles Dance; other bad guy roles are filled by great actors like Anthony Quinn and F. Murray Abraham.

Last Action Hero lands on Blu-ray as part of Mill Creek Entertainment’s retro VHS line, which repackages the movies to look like formal rental tapes – and, to be honest, this sort of packaging is just perfect for this movie. The film calls for an in-depth special someday down the road in which its sordid production history is fully broken down by those involved, but that’s not what you’ll find on this totally extras-less release. (The only option on the menu screen is a lonely-looking “Play Movie” button.) For as inexpensive as it’s priced, however, it’s a good stopgap for the time being, with a good widescreen picture quality. Last Action Hero is an underrated action parody that we’ll still recommend, but it could have been so, so much more.


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