Last Action Hero (1993)

(Second viewing, on Cable TV, March 2016) I remember seeing Last Action Hero in theatres in 1993, days after graduating from high school, and liking it quite a bit better than the reviewers did at the time. I approached it again with nostalgia-tinted intentions, ready to make a bold claim that its action movie self-referential satire would have been far more successful in today’s vastly more irony-friendly culture. But after actually watching the film, I reluctantly concede that the critics were right then and are still right now: Despite an engaging premise, some spectacular set pieces and a self-deprecating performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Last Action Hero ends up as a film too flawed to be considered successful. Reading up on the film’s troubled production history certainly helps clarify why the result seems so haphazard: the involvement of so many people in writing the script explains why it feels so disjointed and underwhelming. The rushed post-production certainly led to the slack moment-to-moment pacing. Worse: Last Action Hero takes a sky’s-the-limit concept and beats it down to a dull rooftop rainy climax, ignoring dozens of better ideas along the way. It fatally chooses to set its climax in the dingy real world rather than the sunny fantasies of the movies. It doesn’t just make jokes, but underlines each of them twice to make sure that we get it. The kid protagonist is more annoying than sympathetic, the all-evil portrait of New York feels dated (although that one isn’t the film’s fault—NYC’s murder rate is now an astonishing 15% of what it was back in 1990) and much of the plot mechanics should have been simplified to focus on the fun-and-games of the premise. I still like much of Last Action Hero: some moments work really well as comic throwbacks to a specific type of early-nineties action film, director John McTiernan manages to make some of the movie-world action sequences a lot of fun (most specifically the hotel rooftop sequence) and some of the individual jokes do land. But the key word here is “some”: As a whole, Last Action Hero doesn’t manage to achieve what it sets out to do. Why doesn’t anyone think of remaking this film rather than successful ones?

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