VOD film review: Last Action Hero (1993)
Mark Harrison | On 15, Sep 2017
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, Charles Dance, Robert Prosky and F. Murray Abraham
Watch Last Action Hero online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
This review was originally published as part of Mark Harrison’s 90s on Netflix series. While this film is no longer on Netflix UK, you can catch up with the rest of Mark’s nostalgic series here.
Last Action Hero was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first action movie after the global success of 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The marketing started in earnest the Christmas before the film was released, with a teaser campaign that promised it would be the biggest ticket of 1993, little realising that Steven Spielberg and his dinosaurs were about to eat up all of their box office.
The result of the film’s head-to-head with Jurassic Park, coupled with an expensive promo campaign and a scathing critical response, was Schwarzenegger’s first bonafide box office flop. In some ways, Last Action Hero was ahead of its time, with its self-aware parody of genre tropes, but it was rushed out to meet its summer release date. How does it hold up nowadays?
The film casts Arnie as Jack Slater, the eponymous hero of the film series within the film – a virtually indestructible, quip-slinging Los Angeles cop, whose fourth outing is all that young Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) has to look forward to. But when Danny gets a literally magic ticket to see Jack Slater IV early from his projectionist friend Nick, (Robert Prosky), he’s transported into the film itself.
Fortunately, a teenage boy isn’t even the weirdest partner that Slater has been teamed with, so Danny is brought along on his hero’s latest adventure, using his genre-savviness to try and help him win the day. In the process, they run up against Jack’s colleague, Practice, (F. Murray Abraham) mob boss Tony Vivaldi (Anthony Quinn) and his sinister henchman Benedict (Charles Dance) before spilling back into the real world.
Last Action Hero was conceived by writers Zak Penn and Adam Leff as a spoof as the sort of buddy action movies Shane Black was writing in the 1980s, but by the time it went through the studio sausage machine, it had been rewritten by Black himself, as well as script doctors William Goldman and Carrie Fisher. It lands some distance from whatever the original pastiche was meant to be.
As mentioned, Schwarzenegger was ahead of his time in insisting that the film be a PG-13 (the film’s “moderate violence” equated to a 15 certificate from the BBFC), and it must have made sense on paper at the time, making it available to a wider audience than the R-rated sci-fi actioner that had become his biggest hit. However, the self-awareness of it all takes the edge off the set pieces, as does that hurried production schedule, and it’s not nearly exciting or funny enough to work fully as an action comedy.
That said, it gets in some good licks while poking fun at itself, even if it sometimes looks as if it’s trying (and failing) to reach its own elbow. It’s laden with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos from Arnie’s past co-stars, including Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Danny DeVito, James Belushi and Franco Columbu, and has a all-timer alternate universe sight gag involving Sylvester Stallone starring in Terminator 2. We had a chuckle at Danny insisting that Amadeus’ F Murray Abraham was untrustworthy because “he killed Moe Zart”, but this joke would have been a little dated even back in 1993.
Schwarzenegger hasn’t had too many great brushes with comedy, but he’s certainly had worse than this, and while some view Last Action Hero as the slippery slope that led to Junior, Jingle All The Way and Batman & Robin, he’s on good form as the straight man to O’Brien’s chattering fanboy. Elsewhere, the man who would be Tywin Lannister easily steals the movie – Dance is delicious as the henchman who becomes evilly enlightened about his station in life.
Ultimately, Wes Craven would make a far greater success of this sort of self-awareness in his New Nightmare a year later, before capitalising upon it in the Scream movies. Those films might be better mainstream forerunners to the likes of Deadpool, but Last Action Hero, the product of massive hubris behind the scenes, caught a lot of fire for being first through the door, and its “plot armour” isn’t quite strong enough to hold up.
It’s likeable enough for a film that wasn’t cooked up in a studio spreadsheet so much as it was experimented on by accountants and rushed out with the best intentions. There are definite highlights throughout the flawed blockbuster, but it was, in the words of Arnie’s immortal portrayal of Hamlet, “not to be”.
Last Action Hero is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.