Last Action Hero (1993)
November 5, 2021 1:00 PM - Subscribe

Danny is obsessed with a fictional movie character action hero, Jack Slater. When a magical ticket transports him into Jack's latest adventure, Danny finds himself in a world where movie magic and reality collide. Now it's up to Danny to save the life of his hero and new friend.

Lengthy discussion of the movie, previously on the blue

Oral history of the movie's development, part 1 and part 2

The first draft of the script [PDF]

I first saw the movie when it came out, and was not that impressed; there were some parts that obviously worked better than others. In the fullness of time, the MeFi discussion above happened; here's my comment from that thread. Finally, I rewatched it this past week, and my earlier opinion hasn't really changed. Possibly due to the numerous rewrites by people of very different sensibilities (the two-part oral history linked above is highly recommended; it features most of the principals in the movie's creation and is pretty unsparing), the movie can't seem to decide whether to be a canny satire of one of the most popular movie genres of the previous decade, a much broader sort of action-comedy, or just a straight up action movie that is modestly self-aware. (If the latter is more your thing, then I'd recommend The Running Man, which is much better at that, in part because it stays in its lane.) Of course, movies can work on more than one level at the same time, if they're good, but this one bounces between the different types and tones and ends up being unsuccessful at all of them. An example of this would be the kid protagonist arguing with Slater about why everyone has a 555 prefix on their phone number, in an effort to prove that they're in a movie. Not bad... but this follows a scene in which there's an animated cartoon cat in the precinct house, the kid points it out, and everyone else is like, so what? If Slater can accept a fucking cartoon walking around and interacting with flesh-and-blood people, how is he going to be convinced with an argument about phone prefixes? (The cartoon cat seems to have been stuck in by someone who still couldn't get over Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and what's worse, they missed the most obvious joke: having the cat jump into our world and turn into a real cat in a little trenchcoat and fedora, who proceeds to claw his way out of the clothes, lick himself, and take a nap.) There's also a running joke about how all the women, especially the woman cops, are absurdly attractive and dressed inappropriately sexy... except that most of the woman cops are in these outfits that look like latex fetish get-ups crossed with some sort of space opera police thing. It just comes off as bizarre, and the point could have been made by having the women cops all wear miniskirts and high heels. (And, to completely ruin the bit, some of the female cops are dressed and made up completely normally, that is, like actual police.) Some of the big action scenes end up being incredibly tedious.

Occasionally, you get a peek at a better movie, maybe one from an earlier version of the script. Charles Dance, who plays Benedict, the henchman who figures out the deal with the magic McGuffin and uses it to his own advantage, ironically seems to have stepped into this movie from that better one; you can actually see him thinking at points, and his fourth-wall-breaking scene (oddly, the only one in the film) is casually sly. That scene that I mentioned in my comment from the blue, about Slater reflecting on how awful his private life was, because of his friends and relatives being killed off in successive installments of the Jack Slater Cinematic Universe, takes place in a nearly-empty apartment that holds nothing but multiple copies of his signature outfit. Schwarzenegger tries his hardest to make the conceit work, even delivering a less-than-flattering version of his real-life persona; he even makes fun of his hawking Planet Hollywood (oral history prev. on MeFi). But, as I also said in that previous comment, he's not the protagonist, and Austin O'Brien can't really hold the center of the movie; since this movie is mostly showing up 80s action tropes, I reflected on how many good kid actors there were in the 80s who might have done better. Maybe John McTiernan just can't direct kids, or comedy.

Now streaming on Netflix.
posted by Halloween Jack (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Such a frustrating movie; I so want it to be better than it is.

I don't hate the kid as much as many do; he seems fine to me.

For me the too-many-rewrites problems really show up in Slater's world: clearly the Jack Slater movies are cop action/comedies so it seems like his world should be satirizing that genre specifically, but there's so much more stuff crammed in there along with it. The cartoon cat, the sexy space cops who seem to be more of a nod towards sci-fi action, the diversion into a Mob comedy halfway through, the slapstick with Slater's captain blowing steam out of his ears, the Ripper villain who feels more like he belongs in a slasher movie. Why is Robert Patrick's T-1000 cameo here except that hey, that'd be cool? Like: Danny's very certain that he knows the rules on how Slater's world works, but as a viewer I'm not: what is going on here?

Charles Dance absolutely is the best thing in it, partly because I think his performance is very carefully walking right up to the line of "in on the joke" without every actually crossing it. Kind of telling that it was William Goldman's rewrite that punched up that role. The downside is that making Benedict so interesting makes makes Tom Noonan's Ripper -- notionally the lead villain -- seem even more pedestrian and misplaced.

I do think Schwarzenegger has some good moments here, especially in the quieter moments; I'm fond of the breakfast scene: "I never just talked to a woman before; it's neat!"

But; yeah. It's just not the movie I want it to be.

The Metafilter thread takes a weird diversion into True Lies halfway through and it's kind of interesting to compare how those 2 movies have aged. Like, Last Action Hero was a clunker then and is a clunker now; True Lies was glossy but with hey-wait-what-now problems back then -- the lazy "terrorist" stereotypes, the weird stalky subplot -- and I think has actually aged a lot less well because of them. Does have Arnie riding a horse up a skyscraper though.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:36 PM on November 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Arnold's career never seemed to be the same after this turkey. He lost his invulnerability and by the end of the 90s, he was pretty much an afterthought.

It's interesting how so many action stars flamed out sometime in the 90s, Arnold, Stallone, Kurt Russell, and Mel Gibson. Only Tom Cruise survived that decade more or less unscathed.
posted by Beholder at 6:07 PM on November 5, 2021

Why is Robert Patrick's T-1000 cameo here except that hey, that'd be cool?

Exactly; Patrick shows up in the oral history and implies that Arnold asked him to do it because he had one in Wayne's World. The weird thing about that specific bit is that, right after the precinct scene, they're in the video store, and Slater shows Danny the display for Terminator 2, starring Stallone. If that role is swapped, maybe someone else is playing the T-1000--possibly Billy Idol, who was originally slated for the role until he broke his leg--but then, is the guy we saw back in the precinct just a cop who happens to look like Robert Patrick? (And don't even get me started on Sharon Stone's cameo as Catherine Tramell from Basic Instinct, which sure is something to put in a PG-13 movie.)

Only Tom Cruise survived that decade more or less unscathed.

And never really went for that steroid-heavy, cop-mongering pumped-up action stuff; he alternated action roles that were more or less realistic (Top Gun, Days of Thunder) with some pretty solid dramatic choices (Rain Man, Born on the Fourth of July). I'm not sure where Legend fits in there; except for Tim Curry's devilicious turn, it seems to have faded from general awareness. (The Mission: Impossible franchise began a few years after this movie.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:18 PM on November 5, 2021

I rewatched this earlier this year.

It aged poorly, because the material its based on did as well and is, by necessity, even older than the movie.

However, it still has salient points to make, especially pointing out that all the women in the movie movie were overly dressed- and made- up. Continuity errors and plot holes. The protagonist has a wardrobe, but it's all identical (that's why I gave 'Kate' (2021) such a pass - she actually got to wear different clothes, appropriately) - that and self-cleaning clothes. One thing that I'd liked to have seen is extremely nice homes of people who couldn't possibly afford them.

I do not like the kid, but don't bear much animosity; he is, after all, another stand in for what the movie is lampooning.

It was still entertaining enough, but moreso if one has an historical interest in Hollywood movies of the era that immediately preceded it.

The movie has heart underneath it all, I can't deny that.
posted by porpoise at 6:34 PM on November 5, 2021

Huh, I guess I'm the outlier here. It's been a couple of years since the last time i watched Last Action Hero, but I enjoyed it. Not as much as I did when it was in theaters, but I still found it funny. Not gut slapping hilarious, but funny nonetheless. The various plot holes and other seemingly out of place bits just add to the farce to me. The films it parodies aren't exactly paragons of consistency. Weird tonal shifts and shit that makes no sense is a big part of what makes the dumb action flick a dumb action flick, after all.

Last Action Hero isn't meant to be taken seriously. It might have been impressive if it had been, though, since the action movie genre is itself not meant to be taken seriously.

But yeah, I get that I'm weird. Few if any others would find LAH as entertaining as all but a few of the best Marvel films. Yet somehow I do.
posted by wierdo at 7:24 PM on November 5, 2021

Man I didn't expect to be in the minority here but there's a lot of underrating of this movie
It's really good. Like seriously calling it a turkey is pretty misplaced tbh.
posted by Carillon at 11:16 PM on November 5, 2021

“No one’s going to tell this sweet prince goodnight” still makes me laugh. The film is definitely a grab bag of gags, but some of the gags are pretty memorable.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:03 AM on November 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

I mean, it wasn't totally awful; I did finish it, even though it didn't seem to be completely successful at what it set out to do. By contrast, I tried rewatching David Lynch's 1984 version of Dune after watching the much better recent version, and I had to turn it off because of profound irritation at the voice-overs that were the equivalent of those little thought-bubbles that comic books used to have (and even they don't do that anymore, for the most part); Lynch won't even talk about that movie in interviews.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:16 AM on November 6, 2021

"Last Action Hero" is one of those movies that didn't blow me away, but was still entertaining enough that I'd watch it whenever it was on. And after it came out, it was on a lot. So I know it and I remember it fondly.

Even as a teen, I thought Danny was kind of annoying and the Danny-Jack dynamic was my least liked part of the movie. Also, I never really bought into All-Movies-Ever Fictional Universe that Jack inhabited. Yes, the T-1000 cameo was cool. But beyond that cool factor, the whole premise is too mind blowing. That being said, I do like the whole inside-a-movie-totally-crazy-stuff-happens idea, like when Jack shoots a guy waiting for him in his closet, because there is always a guy waiting for him in his closet. Or when he easily cleans the tar off. That kind of movie magic without the excess of a huge shared universe was far more interesting. And I thought the most effectively dramatic parts of the movie were when Jack and Benedict were out in the real world.

A couple more thoughts. 1) Great incidental soundtrack. 2) The Hamet scene should be more iconic.
posted by Stuka at 10:02 AM on November 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

I liked this when it came out and I continue to like it.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:25 PM on November 6, 2021

When I saw this as a kid when it first came out I thought it was the cleverest film I'd ever seen. Don't know that that would still hold, but it did get me thinking about narrative devices and genre conventions in a way I hadn't before, so, I'm glad it was made.
posted by bertran at 10:00 PM on November 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I tried rewatching David Lynch's 1984 version of Dune after watching the much better recent version, and I had to turn it off because of profound irritation at the voice-overs that were the equivalent of those little thought-bubbles that comic books used to have

Those are in the book as well though. Character thinks: That maudib is pigging brilliant.
posted by biffa at 12:59 AM on November 8, 2021

Always felt like it wanted to be Hot Shots! but because Arnold was actually in it they had limits to the absurdity levels.
posted by M Edward at 9:26 AM on November 9, 2021

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