Wednesday, February 27, 2008

 

From the Vault: Last Action Hero

Chuckles often ripple across a room when someone compares a new film to Ishtar or Hudson Hawk, usually followed by a knowing nod that the comparison indicates a new low in big budget Hollywood filmmaking.

Last Action Hero has drawn comparisons to those earlier films but while none of the three can be called good or successful, not one of them deserves to be labeled the most atrocious example of moviemaking gone awry.

To be fair, Hero, the latest offering from Arnold Schwarzenegger, lands a notch or two above both Ishtar and Hudson Hawk. In fact, if Arnold's movie were shorter, had less obvious jokes and tightened its ending, it could have been a thoroughly enjoyable fusion of The Purple Rose of Cairo, The Player and the action genre.

While Arnold gets top billing, 13-year-old Austin O'Brien really has the film's lead role as Danny Madigan, a New York lad whose world revolves around the action character Jack Slater, who in the film's context is supposed to be played by Arnold himself.

One night, Danny sneaks out of his house for a special screening of "Jack Slater IV," courtesy of his best friend Nick (Robert Prosky), the projectionist at his favorite movie house. Thanks to a ticket Houdini gave Nick as a youngster, Danny finds himself magically transported into the world of "Jack Slater IV," where he understands that he is in a movie while Slater buys the outrageous action that surrounds him.

Much of the remainder of the film exists within "Jack Slater IV," where Danny helps Slater outwit the crooks because he knows information Slater doesn't and because he's seen so many of these action flicks, he can predict every turn.

Last Action Hero's major drawback, other than its excessive length, comes from its insistence of going for the obvious satirical points and underlining them in case the audience misses them. The overexplanation of why things are funny sap them of their humor.

Also, as it starts to lose steam toward the end, it also begins to cheat on its own premise in ways that can't be explained without giving too much away.

What Last Action Hero does have going for it are an often good-natured sense of humor and a wonderful performance by Charles Dance, who treads the line between self-awareness and ignorance perfectly as the film-within-the-film's villain.

So why has the reaction to this film been so universally vicious? It has a lot to do with its cost: the lowest estimate places the budget at $80 million. Still, many worse films have been made with less money and lower aims.

One gets the impression that Arnold almost wishes this was his last action film, to show he's achieved great things in the genre at the same time he admits doing horrid things in the genre. The truth as to why audiences aren't too pleased with the film may be the film's underlying message. They come to see the usual Arnold shoot-'em-up and find a movie that seems to be making fun of them for enjoying those types of films.

Perhaps that's what they were being told, but I doubt that was Arnold or the filmmaker's intention. While Last Action Hero doesn't succeed overall, people should recognize its true message — "It's only a movie."


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Comments:
UGH!!!

This movie was HORRIBLE! I saw Ah-nold when they were making it, as some of it was shot in Jersey City. I remember in my review saying the kid's hands looked like he'd spent 1,000 years jerking off. That was the nicest thing I could say about this wretched mess! Just bringing it up makes me feel like Josh R. after watching La Vie En Oscar Winner.

I recognize its true message: It's only a piece of shit! (And jerk off often, as if I needed that message.)

Charles Dance is a lot more fun in another horrible movie (but this one I like) The Golden Child. My brother Numpsey! But I'll always remember him in White Mischief for what Sarah Miles does to him at his funeral. Whoo! Nasty!
 
I've always found LAH to be a frustrating mess, a potentially exciting and satirical movie that utterly fails to deliver on the more clever parts of its premise.

And I agree with you that Arnold seems to want to put the whole action thing to bed here. There's a moment where Arnold-the-actor meets Slater-the-hero and angrily tells him, "You've ruined my life!" Now I'm no Freud, but it sure sounds like someone's trying to tell us something there, and I wish the movie had delved a bit deeper to find out what that might have been.
 
I must admit, I think Ishtar is one of the funniest films ever made. I love it. The first half hour is especially good. Elaine May is a great writer/director. She is a much better director than Mike Nichols (and from what I hear, a lot crazier as well). Ishtar deserves to be re-evaluated.
 
It helps to put LAH in context. At the time, Ah-nold was king. He was riding so high that his fall was pre-destined. Our country loves to prop people up, but then we get itchy and start looking for their Achilles' heels. For Arnold, LAH provided the public with a perfect vehicle to bring him back to earth.
 
Thanks for taking this movie out of the vault and dusting it off, Eddie.

While John McTiernan tried to pass the blame off on the studio, I think he's a big part of why Last Action Hero didn't work. Nowhere on McTiernan's resume do you find him showing a knack for either fantasy or comedy, and the movie is a monumental failure there.

The story of went wrong is fascinating, however, and I hope to write something about it later in the year. Thanks!
 
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