Monday Movie: Last Action Hero, by David Bax
Every Monday, we’ll recommend a movie–it could be a classic, an overlooked recent treasure, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like–and we’ll tell you where to find it online.
In a perfect world–say, one that only exists inside a movie–1993’s Last Action Hero should have been a coffin lid dropping on the 1980s American action movie. You know the ones I mean, wherein a steroidal slab of muscle played by Arnold Schwarzenegger or the like kills everyone and blows up everything in an unstoppable march of violent righteousness, surviving gunshots, falls and other things that would kill most humans with ease. In retrospect, actually, director John McTiernan may have already made that movie five years earlier with Die Hard, the movie with the balding and profusely bleeding hero who wants to save the day but also wants to save his marriage. That movie may have been to established action tropes what Nevermind was to hair metal, even if both limped along for a few more years; Cliffhanger also came out in 1993 and even the Last Action Hero soundtrack album features both Queensryche and Alice in Chains, straddling eras.
Alas, Last Action Hero was a commercial and critical flop and, as tempting as it is to try to reclaim it a subversive gem, it largely deserves its reputation. Yet enough of it works–or at least impresses–to make the movie a worthwhile artifact. This movie, about a boy named Danny (Austin O’Brien) who loves action movies and then magically ends up inside one, where he helps Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger) save the real world from a psychopathic henchman turned big bad (Charles Dance), finds room for broad silliness (Danny Devito voices a cartoon detective), European arthouse references (Ian McKellen plays Bengt Ekerot’s Death from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal) and hyper-specific meta-jokes (Danny warns Jack not to trust his partner, played by F. Murray Abraham, because “He killed Mozart”). It’s also stuffed with clever cameos, like Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell and Robert Patrick as the T-1000.
It didn’t come together, though. As novel as Last Action Hero is, it was never fated to herald an epoch. Maybe that’s because it was unfortunate enough to open one week after Jurassic Park. Or maybe people just weren’t ready to get this much comedy in their action movies, especially comedy that’s often not that funny.
Last Action Hero is available on Showtime.