Last Action Hero

Last Action Hero. Columbia Pictures 1993.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t remember where I first heard of this film, but I liked the idea immediately. I like metafictional stories, and I don’t see them often applied to movies, especially as straightforwardly as this seems to be doing.

Action movies may not be my favorite, but I usually enjoy them, and they’re certainly ripe for parody, which is another thing I’m drawn to, if my blog history doesn’t show that.

The main thing that I keep forgetting when looking forward to this movie is that he’s a contemporary hero, a Die Hard, Rambo, or Schwarzenegger/Van Damme (big surprise) type. I always picture a more fantasy-style action hero, probably because there was a dragon movie right next to it on whatever page I first heard about this.

After watching the movie:

Danny Madigan is short on friends and long on skipping school to watch movies at the old, near-condemned theater. He is especially fond of the Jack Slater movies, and his one friend, the owner/operator, invites him to come late at night to watch the newest one as he checks the reel before release.  The owner gives him a ticket given to him by Houdini which Danny discovers has the magical ability to cross people between reality and fiction when he finds himself in Slater’s car during an action sequence. He tries to convince Slater that this world is a movie, and in the process gets the villain’s assassin’s attention. A few action sequences later, Danny and Jack have foiled the plot and saved the day, but the assassin has taken possession of the magic ticket and intends to use it for his own gain.

In order to contrast between a satisfying approximation of the real world and Slater’s action-packed reality, they had to make some cartoonish exaggerations. The villain’s plot is cartoonish (he put a gas bomb in a fat corpse named LeFart to kill the mourning family), Los Angeles itself reaches new heights of insane dress on background extras as well as being generally beautiful, and there’s even an actual cartoon cat on the police force. I could have done without that (no way a Jack Slater movie really has him coexist with animated characters), but otherwise, it all makes for a fun watch.

Additionally, I appreciated the way the film takes some time to focus on how much of an empty shell Slater’s life is when the cameras aren’t rolling. His apartment is empty except for his closet (even when there isn’t a faceless hit man inside), and he notes that he’s never “just talked” with a woman before. Other action movies give the hero some token life problems, this film looks at the problems caused for him by bad writing.

The effects serve the plot fairly well. The blue screen composite shots probably wouldn’t be noticeable if one weren’t looking for it. I, however, am so far gone that I can see film grain where they had to boost the brightness too much after the fact.

As one would expect, this movie plays with action movie cliches, and in one shining moment near the end, double-subverts one. My main complaint about the story itself is that in the half of the movie that’s inside Slater’s movie, Slater’s daughter is made much of by the internal credits, but is actually a fairly minor character. I also wonder why the title says he’s the last, other than to compare a teacher’s comment that Hamlet is the first action hero, which makes even less sense.

 

Watch this movie: to have fun, laugh, and get excited

Don’t watch this movie: as a serious career followup to the Terminator films.

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