RogerBW's Blog

Last Action Hero (1993) 17 April 2022

1993 action comedy, dir. John McTiernan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Dance: IMDb / allmovie. Danny loves the Jack Slater movies, but he didn't expect to find himself in one.

This film was famously a flop, and it's had a reputation as a stinker ever since; and I really don't think that's fair. This is one of Arnie's best dramatic roles, as Jack Slater comes to terms with the realisation that all his suffering has been for someone else's entertainment; it plays effectively with the transitions between fiction and reality; and Charles Dance, whom I tend to think of mostly in serious dramatic roles, is an utter gem as the smooth-talking English villain. (Rumour has it that he wore a shirt on set reading "I'm cheaper than Alan Rickman".)

What it isn't is much of an action film; there's a decent car chase, but I found that what would be the climactic sequence of the inner film (a rooftop fight with lots of dangling in mid-air) was inclined to drag. Arnie was trying to get away from his violent image (the film was meant to be an anchor for toys and other spinoffs, but he vetoed the line of Jack Slater action figures with a variety of heavy weapons), and I can't help feeling that action fans who'd enjoyed his last two films (Total Recall and Terminator 2) may have been disappointed in what they got here. (In the original script that was an even stronger element: the projectionist is a Satan-figure who explicitly tries to tempt Danny into being part of the futile cycle of violence that he's learned from action films. I think there are little bits of that left in the final product, such as Danny getting mugged outside his apartment. But telling action-film fans "your favourite genre is full of bad examples" would have riled them up even more.)

But for my money this is a great comedy, with the humour coming from the characters rather than the characters being pushed into a series of shapes to fit someone else's list of jokes. There are lots of little homages to other films, that don't slow the pace if you don't spot the reference. There are deliberate continuity errors (like a machine-gun moving from one side of a helicopter to the other) that, again, don't distract if you don't see them. Comedy works better if I care about the characters; Jack's kitchen conversation with Danny's mother, as he discovers things he's never experienced before (like classical music and talking with a woman), is one of the most powerful dramatic scenes I've seen.

There were problems, of course; perhaps too many hands went into the script, and certainly both shooting and post-production were desperately abbreviated (the latter to a mere ten weeks). A screening of an early rough cut left most of the dialogue inaudible and the audience dissatisfied, and though Sony-Columbia never released the audience ratings word got out anyway. And of course this opened the week after Jurassic Park, with the director wanting more time but the studio heads feeling that, given the rumours, a delay would just get even more people thinking that the production was in trouble. And lastly I think to some extent the knives were out for Schwarzenegger, who'd been going from success to success, and that combined with fatigue at the huge expensive publicity push probably got people into a negative mood before they'd seen the film itself.

It's certainly not a perfect film; I think I'd have less of Danny in movie-world (or perhaps have him learning how to make being a comedy sidekick work for him), and more of Jack in reality-world (with fewer of his movie tricks working than do here). But it's a film that I would be sad not to have in my collection. (I bought it on an early DVD that has to be flipped over part-way through…)

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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Tags: film reviews

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 12:07pm on 17 April 2022

    This is one of Susan's faourite movies, which until we became an item I'd never seen for the reasons you alluded to in your review.

    Since then I have enjoyed watching this movie on a number of occasions. It's light, frothy fun. Better than its reputation suggests.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 12:08pm on 17 April 2022

    She has good taste. :)

  3. Posted by John P at 08:04pm on 17 April 2022

    I don't care what the rep is. It's fun to watch and that's all it needs to be. I love the bit where Arnie drags himself out of that pit covered in muck and almost instantly cleans & dries himself with a few tissues from a dispenser. And all the cop cliche gags as they walk through the police station.

  4. Posted by DrBob at 12:16pm on 19 April 2022

    I've always loved Last Action Hero. I saw it at the cinema and bought it on VHS as soon as it was out.

    The Arnie/Jack Slater as Hamlet sequence was worth the ticket price alone.

  5. Posted by Nick Marsh at 03:34pm on 19 April 2022

    If the only thing I ever took from Last Action Hero was Arnie saying ‘To be or not to be.... not to be’, followed by Elsinore exploding, I’d still consider this worth the price of admission.

  6. Posted by John P at 12:50am on 20 April 2022

    "Nobody is going to tell this sweet prince good night!"

  7. Posted by RogerBW at 01:52pm on 20 April 2022

    For those of you interested in actual-play RPG podcasts, The Film Reroll has just started a play-through of this story – using a heavily-adapted form of GURPS, as they usually do.

  8. Posted by John P at 10:27pm on 20 April 2022

    Just watched the Hamlet clip again on YouTube and realised that they have used Bamburgh Castle as the exploding Elsinore. OK, that a useless thing you never wanted to know. Sorry.

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