Last Action Hero (1993)
“To be or not to be… Not to be.”
Young Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) is a big fan of Jack Slater, a larger-than-life action hero played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. When his best friend, Nick the projectionist (Robert Prosky), gives him a magic ticket to the new Jack Slater film, Danny is transported into Slater’s world, where the good guys always win. One of Slater’s enemies, Benedict the hitman (Charles Dance), gets hold of the ticket and ends up in Danny’s world, where he realizes that if he can kill Schwarzenegger, Slater will be no more. Slater and Danny must travel back and stop him.
Why We Love It
In the year of our lord 1993, when this movie was released to the world, I was 10-years old. It was a big year for me. That summer, my view of what was possible in movies was transformed with Jurassic Park. And I was quickly becoming aware of my affinity for movies. Not just movies, mind you, but larger-than-life action movies. Friends and I worked through our afterschool hours, acquiring copies of Die Hard and Lethal Weapon 2 on VHS, as well as Hot Shots: Part Deux and later in the year, Demolition Man. It was the age of Aquarius, a time when a love of explosions and gun fights was born in me.
Considering that little anecdote, it should be easy to see why I related so well to the plight of Danny Madigan, who was the lone Goonie of the heavy-metal action genre. Here was a kid, just like me, who loved watching action movies more than he liked going to school. He was also a kid who, through the power of a magic ticket, ended up inside the movie. What goddamn 10-year old wouldn’t eat that up?
Sixteen years later, a Blu-ray arrived on my doorstep from Sony Pictures. And for what I can safely say is at least the 20th time in said period, I sat down to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger subtly lampoon a genre of action he helped popularize. And just as it did when I was 10, Last Action Hero delivered. The story was the first from writer Zack Penn, who would later go on to write two X-Men movies and The Avengers, along with another of my favorites from the 90s, PCU. He and Adam Leff then passed it on to Shane Black (yes, the Shane Black, of Monster Squad and Lethal Weapon fame) and David Arnott. Ultimately, it landed in the hands of director John McTiernan, fresh off of directing Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October.
For McTiernan, Last Action Hero is an at times dark commentary on his own work in the late 80s. His main character — a built Ford-tough supercop played perfectly by Schwarzenegger in his prime — is a walking, shooting homage to a long line of gun-totting heroes. And Schwarzenegger is amazing. Jack Slater speaks in cliches, shoots everything that moves and is a stone-cold badass. His story is also filled with hilarious self-aware moments. His sidekick is a spastic kid who personifies the young movie geek of the time. And his villain, oh his villain, is one of my favorite over-the-top baddies of all time. Charles Dance is sardonic and creepy as Benedict, the man with the glass eye. He’s the perfect match for Jack Slater.
Beyond the action — and the fantastic soundtrack filled with AC/DC — and even beyond the camp (there’s tons of camp, which helps my love of this film grow as I become older and wiser), there is an element of emotional weight to this movie. The real world relationships that Danny has, those with his mother and Nick the projectionist, give the film an emotional core. It grounds the film in the very human story of a rebellious teen trying to find a place where he belongs, giving the movie a bit of depth. Not a lot, but a bit.
In the end, I love this movie most because of its place in my autobiographical moviegoing experience. It came along at the right time, and is a movie that will always have a place in my heart. Kids of the 80s got Die Hard and Robocop, and in the 70s they got Star Wars. Born in ’83, I was a moviegoing kid of the 90s, and Last Action Hero was a big one for me.
Moment We Fell in Love
The entire sequence in which Danny is transported into the movie — from the ridiculous car chase to the back-and-forth inside the police station. For a solid 20 minutes of the movie, the dialogue is incredibly sharp between Slater and his new sidekick. In this one series of scenes, McTiernan and co. lampoon just about everything he’s ever done before. Everything from a car jumping from a bridge onto a truck onto a road, to the booming Lieutenant (Frank McRae) busting out his office window, to Danny and Slater driving around looking for bad guys. It leads Slater to the following conclusion: “I mean, all I had to do, is just drive around the neighborhood, and point my finger at a house, and say ‘The bad guys are in there!” Solid gold, if you ask me. One of many perfect Schwarzenegger moments in this movie. One of many.
I’ve realized over the years that there’s a mixed amount of love and hate for this movie. It seems like the generation before mine considers it to be cheap and dumb, while the generation that followed mine doesn’t exactly ‘get’ the Schwarzenegger appeal, nor did they grow up on Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. But I did, and I was there in the right time. And for a young movie liker (at the time) from Cleveland, Ohio, this was the height of satire — a booming parody of a genre that I loved unabashedly. I loved the absurdidty of movie world, where Jack Slater was a king among men. The hilarity of exposing action movie clichés when Slater and Danny travel back to the real world (cars don’t actually explode when you shoot them, it turns out). And I love the tongue-and-cheek delivery of Arnold Schwarzenegger. A favorite moment: Danny awakens to find that Jack and his mother have been talking all night. Danny asks what’s going on, to which Slater replies, “I’ve never just talked to a woman before. It’s neat.” The expressiveness of Schwarzenegger in this moment sums it all up. The guy is poking fun at his own characters, and he’s doing it in a way that is smart and sometimes subtle. And yes, it’s neat.
In my mind, disliking this movie is a big mistake.
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