THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
If you were past puberty in the 1990s, you were an Arnold Schwarzenegger fan. From his 1980s action epics Raw Deal, The Terminator, Commando, Conan the Barbarian, Predator and more, Arnold owned Hollywood. Entering into the 1990s with Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, it seemed like there was nothing he could not do. Action and comedy both seemed to work for the star, so it seemed only natural to combine them in 1993's Last Action Hero. A film that ended up very differently than it was original envisioned, Last Action Hero was lambasted by critics and was a massive disappointment at the box office. Excited to see it on the big screen as a kid and revisiting it just recently, I am happy to say that not only does Last Action Hero hold up well almost twenty years later but it remains one of the most underrated movie concepts of all time.
Envisioned as a parody of the films of Shane Black and others, Last Action Hero went through countless rewrites from Carrie Fisher, Larry Ferguson, William Goldman, and Shane Black himself. By the time it made it to screen, Zak Penn and Adam Leff's original idea had transformed into the fairytale-like adventure we see on screen. Overly engineered by studio executives and notorious for the negative buzz that doomed the final edit, John McTiernan's film is literally documented as a chapter in a book about Hollywood bombs. While it financially hurt everyone involved in producing it, I still find Last Action Hero to be a charming and fun blockbuster that would eventually pave the way for films like Ready Player One and Free Guy.
By making the central character, Danny Magidan, a teenage boy, Last Action Hero manages to provide the audience with a proxy familiar with the cliches and tropes of the Hollywood action flick. Austin O'Brien brings a smart-ass mentality, not unlike Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone and Uncle Buck. Danny takes solace in action movies after the death of his father and idolizes the fictional Jack Slater played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Friends with old projectionist Nick (Robert Prosky), Danny is gifted a magic ticket that transports him into the fictional Jack Slater movie. From cartoon characters to only attractive people, Slater's world is as predictable as most studio movies. The average movie fan may not have appreciated all of the in-jokes and industry references, but I found them just as funny this year as they were three decades ago.
Last Action Hero is the only movie I could imagine that could feature a running joke referencing Amadeus as well as copious shots of cleavage and a farting corpse flying around the skyscrapers of Los Angeles. This is a movie that completed post-production mere weeks before it hit theaters which also happened to be a week after the mega-hit Jurassic Park. In the early 1990s, movies that echoed the excess of the 1980s, also Schwarzenegger's golden years, led to a chilly reception that treated Last Action Hero as derivative and full of senseless violence when it in fact was spoofing those very elements. Last Action Hero is not a film that can be held alongside any of Schwarzenegger's prior or later movies because it deliberately sets itself apart. Director John McTiernan, whose Die Hard and Predator are also inspirations for Last Action Hero, plays the action straight while the dialogue is anything but.
Running at over two hours, Last Action Hero does feel like it may be ten to twenty minutes too long, but that in itself is an ode to the excess of action films of the era. But, try as I might, I cannot figure out where to trim from this movie. The early scenes in the real world are requisite set-up to learn about the fantasy this movie employs. Within the Jack Slater world, every moment is excessively executed to perfection, especially with the villains. Anthony Quinn is hilarious as mobster Tony Vivaldi while Charles Dance is exceptional as the true villain Benedict. Tom Noonan's horrific The Ripper is still just as creepy looking as ever while F. Murray Abraham's duplicitous John Practice plays his cliched role well. On the other side, Frank McRae's Lt. Dekker may be the most over-the-top character but one that had me laughing every time he was on screen. Then there is Bridgette Wilson as Whitney Slater, the definition of a teenage crush.
Michael Kamen's score is one that I forgot about for years until I rewatched the film and it immediately transported me into the world of Last Action Hero. The cinematography of Dean Semler (Young Guns, Mad Max 2) manages to illuminate the bright, candy-colored fictional Los Angeles with the grittier and seedier real world of New York City. McTiernan balances the two disparate universes in a way that you can always tell where you are based on the visuals. Last Action Hero manages such a balancing act years before its time and it remains a wonder that we don't have more movies trying to use a similar plot device more often.
Last Action Hero is impossible to hate. If it had been a serious film, it would have felt formulaic and redundant. Had it been a straight parody, it would have felt too on the nose. By blending the two into this fantastical tale, Arnold Schwarzenegger proved he was not above making fun of himself while still pushing the limits of what a big-budget movie could achieve. With a rousing score, tons of cameos, and lots of easter eggs, Last Action Hero deserved the sequel it was lampooning. Watching this movie now, you may find yourself much more willing to go along for the fireball-drenched ride than you may have been before and more willing to forgive some of the more uneven elements to this ode to a bygone era of filmmaking.
But hey, that's just my UnPopular Opinion. Tell us your take on Last Action Hero in the comments below.
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected] or spell it out in the comments below. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!