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Junkfood Cinema: Last Action Hero

By  · Published on December 3rd, 2010

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; special orders upset us to no end. So you say you like bad movies, eh? Well grab a three-layer bologna and marshmallow sandwich and your coveted copy of Ishtar and welcome to the JFC family! Every week I dissect a particularly terrible film and spread the organs of its failure onto the damp paper towel that is the internet. Whoa, Bio Lab flashback.

But once the film is hollowed out and fully exposed, I will then proudly don its carcass as a hat and profess my undying affection for it. As if this frog dissection metaphor wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, I will then pair the movie with a tie-in snack food item in the hopes that by the end you won’t be able to tell if it’s my writing or your atrocious diet that has you marathon vomiting like a supermodel.

This week’s dish: Last Action Hero.

What Makes It Bad?

Oh boy howdy, is this thing silly. It’s like Richard Donner presents Looney Tunes. I know immediately there are those among you who are clamoring that I didn’t actually watch the movie or flat-out missed the point, but pipe down for a second. I’m not even referring to the bad puns, hackneyed plot devices and uninspired story of the film within the film. While I would argue that the point of a spoof is not to make the cannon you are lampooning seem far better in comparison to your insipid exaggerations (the Rottwieller pyramid just hurts to think about), at least the nearly unwatchable world of the meta movie is playing by its own established rules. It’s when they leave the over-the-top arena of the bad action film that Last Action Hero gets painfully absurd.

Let’s start with the villain’s plan. Benedict decides that if he kills the real Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Jack Slater IV premiere, the character Jack Slater who is loose in the real world will be no more. And not only do our heroes figure this out in less time than it takes Uwe Boll to agree to adapt a videogame, but they instantly accept it despite the fact that half-witted rat terriers could point out the logical fallacy there. You know like when Leslie Nielsen died and his image was instantly removed from every DVD copy of Airplane! and…wait, no. That didn’t happen at all! Or how about the fact that Benedict, once in the real world, gets out of every conceivable bad situation using the ticket which then fails to work right before Slater kills him for no reason other than the movie needed to end? You can kind of see where the writers ran into their deadline and had to slap together a third act.

As bad acting goes there is a one-two punch of indecipherable going on that makes this English-language film desperately in need of subtitles. First we have JFC Hall of Fame inductee Arnold Schwarzenegger as the self-referential meathead Jack Slater. Given the fact that he’s a cheesy action star playing an even cheesier action hero, you can imagine the hamming that takes place here; like one thousand Christmas dinner entrees shoved into one trip to Grandma’s house. And again, I totally get what they were going for but for the love of Henny Youngman are Arnie’s one-liners atrocious. Anytime you make his quips in Running Man seem like subtle, cerebral humor you are clearly operating within an elevated stratosphere of bad. But what really kills me aren’t the bad puns, but the legitimately witty dialogue that Arnold is given that could have made for one of the most introspective and layer performances of his career…totally squandered by his complete lack of understanding of their subtext. His sole focus was clearly pronunciation and even then, given who we’re talking about, the deliveries are not ideal.

The kid lead in the film is the instantly forgettable Austin O’Brien. His is as obnoxious and lackluster as any other bad child star convinced of his own coolness, but his ability to match Schwarzenegger indecipherable syllable for indecipherable syllable is no small feat. I know this sounds nit-picky, but I also don’t believe – as we are led to in the film – that the kid who watches nothing but bad action movies would also have a wealth of accessible knowledge on the films of Milos Forman and Ingmar Bergman; at least until he grows up and has a bad movie column on Film School Rejects.

But the biggest shortcoming of Last Action Hero is that the action sequences are about 900 miles south of impressive. They exist, they are in fact present, but they are so mediocre as to be bare minimum for the film’s inclusion in the genre. The most exciting sequence in the film is nothing more than a digitally-inserted Arnold falling from a building at a 100% natural 38° angle. Am I being overly picky? Perhaps. But when a film is called Last ACTION Hero, I expect the action scenes to at least qualify as decent. But hey, it’s not like the film was directed by John McTiernan or anything, right? I mean can you imagine how embarrassing this film would look on the resume of the director of both Predator and Die Hard? What? Oh…crap.

Why I Love It!

At the risk of revealing my whippersnapperishness, I have to concede that a major component of my love for Last Action Hero is nostalgia-based. I was nine years old when I saw this film in theaters and I loved every cheddar-dripping second of it. Already a fan of Arnie’s by this time, actually comprising his target audience, I was all about the punchy, shooty tough guy with the juvenile sidekick. Even then I believe my rationale for liking Austin O’Brien was based on the assumption that if he could be considered cool enough to roll with Schwarzenegger, then I had it made in the shade. God, I was an arrogant lil’ sumbitch wasn’t I? I wore out my VHS copy of this film within weeks and thought I was a pint-sized badass for knowing all the words to ACDC’s ‘’Big Gun” which plays during the opening of Jack Slater IV.

One the other end of puberty, I have come to appreciate the concept of Last Action Hero. It raises a lot of interesting questions about the relationship between an actor and the characters that define their careers. The moment wherein Slater meets Arnold and says, “I don’t like you, you’ve brought me nothing but pain,” is a powerful moment of meta singularity…or at least it should of been. The film also flirts with, though in my opinion never fully achieves, brilliant satire. I love the idea of a movie villain feeling more at home in the real world because of our apathy and desensitization toward violence. The line, “in this world, the bad guys can win,” is a perfect canonization of the moral compass safety net that action movies provide audiences and how villains in our world can be far more terrifying. I also can’t help but laugh every time I hear Arnold shout, “rubber baby buggy bumpers” as a nod toward predictable catch phrases.

The creative team behind this movie makes me weep. As I mentioned before, the film was directed by Die Hard’s John McTeirnan who, while apparently suffering a severe concussion shortly before arriving on set for Last Action Hero, is as much a hero to me as the characters he has helped make legend. My definition of manliness is a carefully-constructed hybrid of John McClane and Dutch from Predator…just picture that muscle-headed offspring for a second. Speaking of Predator, Last Action Hero was co-written by none other than Shane Black. Black, though apparently involved in the same full-contact badminton accident that caused McTiernan’s concussion shortly before working on Last Action Hero, has written some of my favorite films including Monster Squad and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Is the involvement of these artists enough to make Last Action Hero a good film? No. But it is enough that I can’t write it off completely.

The cameos in Last Action Hero are incredible. There are so many great actors in this film that it’s hard to keep count, even though some of them made the very wise decision to only be on screen for four seconds and never utter a single line: Robert Patrick and Sharon Stone. Then there’s the Jack Slater IV premiere featuring a host of celebrities that don’t so much lend the desired credibility to Last Action Hero as they do instantly date the film more than real world Arnie’s praises for Planet Hollywood. I’m looking at you Jean-Claude Van Damme and M.C. Hammer. But the one performance that really stands out from the background is that of Sir Ian McKellen as Death plucked straight from The Seventh Seal. I want to say he’s wasted in this, but the man is so damn good that his performances can make any film worth watching.

I also love the random, and vicious attacks on politicians as the worst form of life on Earth. It takes the film to an entirely new level of precognitive meta that puts it at risk of collapsing in on itself like a dying star. And I’m sorry, if you aren’t raring to behold Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Hamlet after seeing this film, we are not friends.

Junkfood Pairing: Gorton’s Fried Shrimp

I know what you’re thinking, and yes a Willy Wonka bar would have been the more obvious choice considering the gold ticket connection. But whenever I think of Last Action Hero, the first thing I think about is Tom Noonan’s Ripper character. Not just because Noonan does an exceptional job with what little he’s given, but because that signature yellow slicker always calls to mind the grizzled Gorton’s fisherman who glares at me from inside the freezer case. Considering the man has been captaining a frozen seafood conglomerate for the past thirty years, I believe he would go on a axe-happy killing spree too if given the chance.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.