Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thursday Review: Last Action Hero

About a month ago I read an article on The Onion's AV Club about one of my favorite underrated movies:  Last Action Hero.  It's hard to believe that the movie is 20 years old now; seems like only yesterday we were not watching it in the theater.  Somewhere you can probably still buy the Last Action Hero figures hardly anyone bought.  I bought a couple I like to joke are my nest egg for retirement because in another 30 years they'll be worth big money!  Of course first it would help to know where they are.

In case you never watched it, much of the movie serves as a satire of action movies, especially the cop action movies like Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, and the like.  In the "real" world a kid named Danny loves the Jack Slater action movie franchise.  At an old theater he gets a sneak peek at the latest one (Jack Slater IV) along with a supposedly magic ticket.  The ticket actually is magic and transports Danny into the movie, where he lands in Slater's backseat during a car chase with some villains.  From there the satire begins with the loud rock music, the car jumping obstacles and smashing through stuff without a scratch, and the car driving perfectly straight while Slater turns around in his seat to shoot his gun.

From there Danny joins Slater in hunting down a gangster and his main assassin Benedict who has one eye and uses a variety of trick glass eyes in the other.  Benedict is a lot smarter than his boss and figures out Danny is not of his world.  He eventually steals the ticket and uses it to cross over into "reality" which is a pretty awesome place for a movie villain because the good guys aren't guaranteed to win.  That's where the movie applies the satire the other direction as Jack Slater follows Benedict and has to adapt to not having unlimited ammo and actually suffering pain when he punches something--and (most horrifying of all) classical music.

As much as I enjoy the movie the drawback for me has always been that at times it got a little too cutesy.  Like it (accurately) points out how there's not a single homely woman in Jack's world but then takes it to extremes by having most of them dress like hookers.  Or the cartoon cat Whiskers who's a detective at the station.  Just showing the cat the first time was a funny gag, a little send-up of Roger Rabbit in a way of combining animation with actual film, but having the cat show up later as part of the action was a bit much.  On the other side in the end sequence there gets to be a bit too much winking when Jack Slater meets Arnold Schwarzenegger and so forth--something that sadly Ocean's Twelve did not learn from about a decade later.

This was probably the John Carter of its time, a movie that got hamstrung mostly by poor management.  Like John Carter the end product isn't as bad as some people would make it seem.  At least it's never seemed that way to me.  But then I prefer a movie that tries an ambitious concept and doesn't entirely succeed over one that plays it safe all the way.  It's why I like other movies like Darkman and Pacific Rim that were not huge successes at the box office.  In this case the ambitious part was making sort of a meta-movie with a movie-within-a-movie and sometimes crossing with other movies on top of that when Benedict fetches The Ripper from Jack Slater III and the ticket inadvertently summons Death from The Seventh Seal (played by Ian MacKellan in his pre-Gandalf/Magneto days).  If it hadn't gotten so over-the-top in its satire it would have been even better.

Like the AV Club reviewer I wouldn't agree with critics who complained that neither "reality" in the movie is actual reality.  That Danny's world isn't exactly our world (because our world doesn't have magic tickets--so far as I know) wasn't really the point.  The point was for Jack to enter a world where his world's rules no longer applied to see if he could overcome that, if he could be a hero outside of his scripted reality.  It's something I do in the 5th Scarlet Knight book when Agnes the witch is drawn into a parallel universe without magic and has to overcome that handicap.

Where I disagree from the AV Club review is when they say all Danny learns is that magic is real.  In the same way that Jack has to overcome his handicaps to be a hero in the "real" world, Danny has to find his courage to be a hero.  Early in the movie Danny's apartment is robbed and while he briefly considers trying to fight back in the end he just ends up cowering in a bathroom.  As well it's pretty clear that he spends most of his free time in a dark movie theater, usually by himself.  Contrast that to the end when he has to help Jack stop Benedict on the rooftop and then get Jack back into his movie universe to save his life.  Presumably then after the movie Danny might not spend so much time in the movie theater hiding from real life.

So see there are a lot of hidden depths here that a lot of people never bother to contemplate in large part because the movie was deemed a failure and therefore it must suck.  Just like you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you shouldn't judge a movie by its box office receipts.  As Jack Slater would say that's a "Big Mistake."

Appropriately the Box Office Blitz playoffs begin tomorrow!

9 comments:

  1. I must confess...I did see this in the theater.
    I actually wanted a contact lense happy face.

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  2. I've never seen it, but it might be worth changing that in order to see a younger Ian McKellen. He's an actor who as far as his popular career might as well suggest, was born old!

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  3. I've seen movies far worse than John Carter and think that movie gets undeserving bad rap. I never saw Last Action Hero.

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  4. YES! Love this movie. I was a sophomore in college when it came out.

    I too think there's much more depth in it than most people give credit for. And The Arnold was perfectly cast. Can't imagine anybody else playing the part of Jack Slater?

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  5. I saw this movie once a long time ago and didn't like it.

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  6. I really liked Last Action Hero and wish I had bought the action figures. I wanted to at the time, but I didn't have the money for them. I need to rent the movie for my kids, although they won't understand the references. Maybe I should start them on some of the other movies...

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  8. I wouldn't say it's a masterpiece but it is a perfect parody of action movies. The big problem is the end tried to play it serious. I used to have the hatchet guy action figure Andrew.

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  9. I'm a bit of a fan of the movie myself, most people that I talk to in real life seemed to remember it fondly too. I think it's a bit of a higher concept that most action movies and it didn't appeal to everyone. I've probably seen it 5 or 6 times though. I've made my kids watch it with me, and they don't have any issues with it (aside from the fx - which they pick apart in every single movie they watch that is more than 3 years old and didn't have a budget of $190 mil.

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