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‘Last Action Hero’ (1993): Movie Lover’s Magic Ticket

A young boy is given a special ticket for a private showing of a new up-coming action movie and is magically transported into the film where he meets his hero.

Most of us have watched a movie and wished we could be up their in that world, walking and talking with the characters on screen. For young Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien), his hero has always been Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the star of a series of light police thrillers with tons of explosions and funny one-liners. It’s really all he seems to think about, even day-dreaming of Slater as Hamlet while in school (one of the funnier bits in the film). He has no friends, instead spending time at a local rundown theater where he talks movies with Nick (Robert Prosky), the old-time usher and projectionist. When Nick tells him of a secret, private midnight showing of the newest Jack Slater movie, Danny shows up (sneaking out of the house while his mother works) and Nick gives the kid a ticket. Danny doesn’t know it, but that ticket is not your typical movie ticket. It’s got magic. As Jack Slater IV begins and the actions starts, something amazing happens. Danny is pulled into the movie.

Last Action Hero
Austin O’Brien, Arnold Schwarzenegger (Last Action Hero, 1993)

This is not necessarily a new concept for film plots. Woody Allen‘s Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) is one of the best ever made about a character who does the opposite of Danny and walks off the screen. It’s a touching, funny romance and like Last Action Hero (or rather vice versa) doesn’t try to answer too many question about how it works but rather what happens because it does.

Last Action Hero is directed by John McTiernan, who knows a thing or two about action. Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October. These are the movies that made his career. Some considered Last Action Hero to be his first misstep, and while it isn’t as well-respected as his other movies are, it is better than its reputation and has much to offer, especially the more years that pass. Watching it now, we remember why Schwarzenegger was such a massive box office star. Loaded with charisma, this role is as well-written and perfectly realized as his Terminator. 

Last Action Hero
Arnold Schwarzenegger (Last Action Hero, 1993)

Once Danny lands in the movie world of Jack Slater, the story, written by Zach Penn and Adam Leff (with a clever screenplay by Shane Black), becomes all the more better, with lots and lots of plays on the tropes and clichés of the genre and actors involved in them. These are the realities of the people who live in this world, not aware that they are entertainers for the ‘real’ world. Sure, it doesn’t truly get too meta, and there’s nothing inventive beyond seeing it all unfold, but there is great joy in watching it happen. That’s entirely because of McTiernan’s direction and Schwarzenegger’s total commitment to the part, but there’s a lot of great work by the supporting actors too, including F. Murray AbrahamTom Noonan, and a hilarious turn for Frank McRae who pokes fun at movie police captains. There are only two women to speak of, Mercedes Ruehl as Danny’s mother and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, playing Slater’s daughter, who was given an “and introducing” opening credit but never really became the superstar perhaps filmmakers hoped. Ruehl is a marvel and it’s too bad she didn’t figure more into the story, but does have some crucial moments. 

Last Action Hero
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mercedes Ruehl (Last Action Hero, 1993)

Watching it again, it’s a violent film, and seems less suited for the age of the audience perhaps it is marketed for, but times were different then. The violence is used as a commentary on the genre itself, especially with the film’s main protagonist Benedict, played deliciously by Charles Dance, who, once he realizes that gun shots in the city of the ‘real’ world garner nothing but complaints from a disgruntled neighbor rather than smart-talking cops in convertibles, makes a plan to steal the ticket and unleash all the bad guys from all the movies to raise an army. That’s such a clever bit and is something that really ought to have been explored more, but in the context of the story is done well enough. A cameo by Ian McKellen as Death from Ingmar Bergman‘s The Seventh Seal, is startling effective. 

As mentioned, McTiernan’s direction is spot on, and he does things here with movement and angles that really give the movie great style. Pay attention to a scene with Jack as he bursts into mob boss Tony Vivaldi’s (Anthony Quinn) estate. It’s a great visual and perfectly establishes the position and power of the characters. There’s also a fantastic sequence involving a crane and a long fall with Schwarzenegger that McTiernan will borrow heavily from for his next film, Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Loaded with razor sharp sarcasm and Hollywood jabs, it takes more than one viewing just to catch everything being thrown at the screen. Truly, the movie came out twenty years too early. Audiences just weren’t ready.

Revisiting Last Action Hero is far more fun than expected. Yes, nostalgia plays a big part in that enjoyment. Of course it does. But more so is one’s love of movies. There can be no doubt. The older you are and the longer you have been a fan of film, the stronger Last Action Hero resonates. While it might not illuminate upon the subject with any greater meaning, it does respect the art it mocks, and for pure joy of that art, there are few films that are as much a good time as this.

Last Action Hero (1993)

Director(s): John McTiernan

Actor(s): Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O'Brien, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance,

Genre: Action

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