LAST ACTION HERO
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance,
Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Austin
Director: John McTiernan
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 131 Minutes
Release Date: January 12, 2010
“You really believe to be inside a movie, don’t you?”
“Fine, I give you ten minutes to prove it…and then I shoot you.”
Back in the summer of 1993, I remember being heavily excited about only one movie…and it wasn’t Jurassic Park. Yes, friends, yours truly had been anticipating Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero even more so than Steven Spielberg’s inevitable mega-monster hit about dinosaurs. Hey, I was fresh out of middle school at the time, therefore my intelligence regarding movie going had not been quite perfected yet.
But I couldn’t help my enthusiasm. For one thing, I was still somewhat forbidden to see any R rated fare at the time, so the mere fact that Schwarzenegger was coming out with a PG-13 rated action filled spectacle was all I needed to be happy about. In case you hadn’t guessed yet, Arnold was pretty much God to me back then and considered his movies downright biblical.
When I first saw it, I found it to be one of the greatest movies I’d ever seen. Of course, I was in a very low minority, as it ended being one of the biggest critical and box office failures of that year. For so many years, I could never understand why so many rejected it and gave it nothing but hate.
Thankfully, people seemed to have warmed up to the movie nearly 17 years later. I’m guessing those who were expecting this to be just another Arnold action epic have finally accepted it for what it set out to be from beginning. Though to be fair, I don’t think the masses were expecting the self-kidding approach from the same director responsible for Die Hard and Predator, and looking back I’m flabbergasted that a major studio was willing to bank on it.
But as it stands, no other movie in history has done a more spot on job of satirizing the action movie genre than this action/fantasy/parody romp from director John McTiernan. Every single ridiculous element we’ve all come to associate with the action movie gets taken down with a great amount of imagination. Having been familiarized with all the action movie clichés in existence, I couldn’t help but love it.
And Schwarzenegger himself has a grand old time poking fun at his action movie image which, having just come off the heels of Terminator 2, was huger than ever by this point. Arnold plays the appropriately named Jack Slater, the biggest action movie hero in existence. His movies come with large supplies of two precise things; unlimited ammunition and one-liners, most of them involving the words “big mistake”.
Slater’s biggest fan is young Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien), who has seen ever Slater movie countless times. There have been three previous installments, and Jack Slater IV is days away from its release. Since Danny is friends with a local projectionist (Robert Prosky), he is granted admission to a private screening before the movie even comes out.
But beforehand, the projectionist hands over to Danny what is said to be a “magic ticket” since it came all the way from the hands of Houdini. Danny is told that it’s not just a ticket, but a passport to another world. Sure enough, while watching the movie, the ticket comes to life and plunges Danny right in the back seat of Slater’s car during an epic car chase.
And it’s here when the movie takes off like a high speed bullet, becoming an inspired marriage of action, fantasy, and satire. The movie universe inhabited by Jack Slater is literally the most ridiculous film environment ever invented. What I love most is the way it pokes fun at every single action movie cliché in the book, such as the hero always surviving a massive explosion and never running out of ammo.
The movie also manages to take a potential fish-out-of-water formula and turning on its head. Since Danny is already familiar with this movie world, he already knows how to keep up with Slater. And the more he tries to convince Slater that everything going on is scripted, the funnier it gets.
Having just now realized that I haven’t really delved much into the plot of the movie (the movie WITHIN the movie to be a little more precise), here’s the rundown. Slater is on a personal vendetta to take down a criminal mastermind named Benedict (Charles Dance), the man who killed his favorite 2nd cousin. And Danny insists he can help track him down based on what he saw in the movie prior to becoming part of it.
Along the way, we get even more hilarious jabs at the action genre, including Slater’s always enraged Captain (Frank McRae), who will certainly ask for the hero’s badge and gun at some point. There’s also the inevitable traitor within the department, played by F. Murray Abraham (the Oscar-winning actor from Amadeus), whom Danny warns Slater not to trust since he killed Mozart. The movie also takes dead aim at the most dreaded action movie cliché; the villain explaining his motive to the hero for no apparent reason.
When it all comes down to it, you really gotta hand it to John McTiernan, who was one of the biggest action directors of the time. He had enough power to make any film he wanted at the time, and the fact that he took on this larger than life action movie spoof that even pokes fun at some of his previous films illustrates just how bold a filmmaker he is. There’s even a pivotal shot in this movie where McTiernan literally rips off the famous slow motion falling death from his own movie, Die Hard, proving that he was in on the joke from beginning to end.
But the movie does lose a bit of steam once Slater crosses over into the real world, which happens as a result of Benedict getting his hands on the magic ticket. The rest of the story plays out in Danny’s world, and it all feels just a little too tacked on. If the movie had the guts to stay and play everything out in Slater’s logic abandoning movie environment, this would’ve been an all around great film.
Though it does bounce back a bit once it arrives at the climax of the movie, which takes place at the world premiere of Jack Slater IV, mainly due to the fact that McTiernan has overstuffed the sequence with so many clever cameos. I just get a kick out of the fact that, during the course of only a few minutes, we catch glimpses of Little Richard, Jim Belushi, Jean-Claude Van Damme, MC Hammer, Damon Wayans and Chevy Chase (who gets to do a classic SNL-style pratfall). And there is a mighty funny payoff when Slater comes face to face with his real life self, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Last Action Hero is very high on the list of movies I’ve never been ashamed of defending, and it’s good to see that people have warmed up to it and accepted it as the fantastically entertaining, and extremely hilarious, movie it set out to be from the very beginning. It’s one I’ll never get tired of watching.
It’s a flat out blessing that this movie has finally made it to Blu-ray. This is due to the fact that it had only been previously available on a Full Screen only DVD, which astounds me since the movie was shot in panoramic widescreen. Getting to see it back in its widescreen glory is a fantastic plus, and this Sony Blu-ray does provide it with the best looking presentation it’s ever been given. The sun baked LA setting within Jack Slater’s world is endlessly lively and colorful in the 1080p, providing consistent image detail at every possible turn. The black levels don’t fare as well, but that doesn’t even come close to ruining the overall presentation!
In describing the audio quality, I can only think to quote Jack Slater when he says, “fasten your seatbelts”. I’ve seen this movie countless times and I can certainly say this DTS HD mix is unquestionably the best audio treatment it’s ever been given. It may have been made in 1993, but it sounds as good as new! And this movie works the hell out of its sound right from the opening frame. Not only does the endless action sound phenomenally awesome, but the movie is jam packed with a hard rockin' soundtrack featuring the likes of AC/DC, Alice in Chains, Megadeth and Anthrax, adding even more bite to the proceedings. Magnificent!
Apart from several Bonus Previews and a Sony’s “Movie IQ” trivia track, not much of an upgrade from the previous bare bones DVD.
I have no shame in saying that Last Action Hero is a true gem, even if it does lose some steam towards the end. No other action movie has been this meta, and that’s what makes it the one-of-a-kind romp that it is. Made strictly for action movie fans with a sense of humor, such as yours truly, and so incredibly worth upgrading to Blu-ray!