Last Action Hero (1993)
Release Date: June 18th, 1993 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: John McTiernan Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Ian McKellen, Bridgette Wilson
f Hamlet was the first action hero (specifically Olivier’s), Schwarzenegger’s version must be the last iteration of the classic Shakespeare creation, since he totes a machinegun and smokes a cigar. Filmic comparisons aside, “Last Action Hero” is one of the finest movie-within-a-movie actioners ever made. That’s not saying too much, considering that extremely specific subgenre consists of very few projects (“Jake Speed” almost falls into the category), but led by an unbeatably macho superstar and directed by blow-‘em-up veteran filmmaker John McTiernan (“Die Hard,” “Predator”), it sure is a lot of fun. Overlong, a tad too silly, but brimming with jokes, cameos (such as M.C. Hammer, Little Richard, Maria Shriver, and Tina Turner as the Mayor), all of the expected adventure film clichés, and hysterically bad one-liners, this unexpectedly enthusiastic, cleverly constructed flick is well worth the running time.
The opening scene tells it all, with a devilish villain known as the Ripper (Tom Noonan) holding hostage several children on the rooftop of the Lincoln Elementary School. In walks Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a rugged cop who never plays by the rules, skipping along the tops of police cars to overstep the professional negotiators and barging his way into the middle of the action. Just as the Ripper slings a fiendishly menacing axe at the unflinching hero (easily the greatest edged-weapon throw in cinema history), the film blurs, revealing young Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) reclining in a theater seat, watching the recently released Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner, “Jack Slater III.”
In a brilliant twist, Arny is a movie star who ends up playing himself; the elderly theater projectionist (Art Carney) gives Danny a magic movie ticket, handed down from Houdini himself, which transports the excited boy into the world of “Jack Slater IV” during an advance screening. Suddenly, Danny is in the middle of a daring car chase and shootout, and must convince Slater that they’re both inside of a fictional movie. In the process, the unlikely duo must solve an elaborate plot by mob boss Tony Vivaldi (Anthony Quinn) to overthrow a rival – involving the kidnapping of Jack’s favorite second cousin, a henchman lackey with a glass eye (Charles Dance), and Leo the Fat’s lavish funeral.
Along the way, every action film trope is satirized, every manly catchphrase is mocked, and the overuse of senseless violence and random explosions is parodied to no end. The production makes fun of itself and its actors, the constant rock music soundtrack never fades, Danny pegs himself as the comedy sidekick, and the ridiculous contrivances that frequent nearly every comparable picture are utilized both in jest and necessity (though the ending boasts a life-imitates-art gimmick that is definitely novel). The most hilarious sequence of “Last Action Hero” arrives when Danny tries to convince Jack that they exist inside a movie – strolling through various sets and bound by the limitations of a PG-13 rating. “What you feel is so entertaining happens to be my life!” cries the disheartened muscleman. And despite a somewhat overcomplicated plot, which won’t disappoint fans of Schwarzenegger’s lighter works, the effective blend of awe-inspiring stunts, laugh-out-loud comedy, and adrenaline-pumping adventure is indeed highly entertaining.
– Mike Massie