by NIR SHALEV
Criminally overlooked upon its release, Last Action Hero is a grade “A” satire of the Hollywood actioner starring one of Hollywood’s greatest action heroes, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Danny (Austin O’Brien) loves going to the movies; in fact, he loves them so much that he skips school often just so he could watch movies for free at his local theater, where his elderly projectionist pal Nick (Robert Prosky) grants him free admission. Danny’s favorite films are the “Jack Slater” films, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he’s watched each of them several times.
One day, Nick informs Danny of a midnight showing of “Jack Slater 4;” he’s going to play the film in order to inspect the reels before its initial premiere and of course, Danny shows up. And just before the start of the film Nick gives Danny a golden ticket, which he claims to have received from Harry Houdini himself. As the film progresses the ticket begins to glow and Danny finds himself inside the film, in the back of Jack Slater’s convertible, and in the middle of a high octane car chase.
Obviously, Danny is ecstatic to meet Jack Slater and throughout most of the film he tries to convince Jack that he’s in fact, a fictional character and that they’re both currently inside a movie. He points out to Jack how every single woman in all of California is gorgeous and when attempting to prove a point he asks two random, beautiful women for their phone numbers. The ladies’ numbers both begin with area code 555 and when Danny indicates to Jack that only 9999 people can reside in all of California Jack retorts, “That’s what area codes are for, Danny.”
Also, when situated inside the police station, Danny notices that one of the police detectives is an animated cat. He screams at Jack and tells him, “Look! It’s an animated cat and he’s walked into the police station!” Jack retorts with, “Yes, and he’ll walk in here tomorrow and also the next day.”
The plot of the film within the film involves Jack’s second cousin Frank’s kidnapping by an Italian criminal named Tony Vivaldi (Anthony Quinn) and his henchman Benedict (Charles Dance), who claims to be nothing more than a lackey. Frank is fed false information regarding Vivaldi’s organization and its merger with another major crime syndicate and is let loose just long enough to deliver the false intel. Danny had already watched major parts of the film so he is able to find out where Vivaldi and Benedict reside and he also knows that the intel from Frank is false. Jack still is a non-believer.
When Benedict finds out about the magic ticket and the ability to travel to another dimension, he leaves the film and, having arrived in New York City where Danny lives, is flabbergasted at the current rate of crime. The real world lacks supermen and people like Jack Slater, and Benedict witnesses a man being murdered just so that his shoes can be taken. He even murders a man in cold blood, glances at his watch for a while, and then screams into the night, “I’ve just shot someone and I’d like to confess!” In turn he is told to “shut up down there!”
Benedict then travels into the film “Jack Slater 3” and retrieves the serial killer Ripper (Tom Noonan) who had killed Slater’s son. He takes him back with him into the real world and convinces him to assassinate the actor known as Arnold Schwarzenegger, so that Jack Slater would cease to exist. Rather brilliant, no? And all this from an Arnold Schwarzenegger film!
Director John McTiernan brought us action classics such as Predator (1987), Die Hard (1988), and Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) and is a popular master filmmaker of hard core Hollywood action filmmaking. As a result, he was the perfect director for Last Action Hero, which wonderfully satirizes even his own films. In the “Jack Slater” movies, Jack Slater never feels pain, even when inside of a house that just blew up. When covered head to toe in tar he cleans himself up within seconds using a handful of Kleenex tissues, and his Desert Eagle pistol never runs out of ammunition. He also, somehow manages to carry roughly seven other pistols and a knife upon his person at all times.
What I love most about the film is the fact that when Jack Slater experiences the real world, he feels pain when smashing the window of a cab in order to break into it. While playing chicken with the enemy, his whole body aches after the car crash, and when firing his pistol at the villain’s car he is astonished that it doesn’t explode and emit gigantic balls of flame. He also doesn’t like to have to reload. But the brightest brilliance of the screenplay comes when Jack Slater falls into a depression upon his realization that he is in fact, a fictional character. He is depressed at the thought that he doesn’t actually exist nor ever had, and that he doesn’t actually have a daughter nor a son who was killed. Jack Slater almost gives up.
Last Action Hero knows exactly what it wants to be and tells exactly what it needs to tell in order to be a terrific satire, and sometimes parody of Hollywood action filmmaking. The action scenes in the film are terrific on their own, parody or not, and the performances from all of the actors show that they’re all aware of the satire. No one seems lost, like in so many other parodies, and Last Action Hero is a complete package.
It being an overlooked film is a great blow because many people’s memories of the film are that of an action film that’s lost within its own juices and one that is unable to differentiate action from comedy, but those memories are false because the film succeeded while audiences and critics failed to notice and acknowledge its brilliance. It’s bitingly funny, action packed, smart, and aware of its smarts. I highly recommend that everyone in the known universe revisit this little lost cult classic. I knew that it was awesome back then and why, and it still is.
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