Blu-ray Review: Last Action Hero (1993)

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You know you're watching a bomb when not only is the bomb the heroes are chasing onscreen called “The Fart” but also when you realize that you're having much more fun exploring behind-the-scenes movie minutia via the pop-up movieIQ track included on new Sony Blu-ray releases than you are in terms of the actual movie.

However, there's a major difference between my interest in the pop-up information included on Last Action Hero and something like Cliffhanger, which was released by the company on the same day. Namely, we're actually interested in the details about the movie we're watching when it comes to Cliffhanger whereas with Last Action Hero, it's a pleasure to look past obvious homages from E.T. to T2 and movies that have more than two letters in the title to learn more about the otherwise talented cast and crew who are completely wasted in the final product.

Shamelessly commercial, incredibly smug, and beyond exploitative, Hero's underrated witty action scribe Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon) must've cranked out this movie in the length it would've taken him to watch a B-movie matinee double feature.

My Girl 2's Austin O'Brien plays young movie lover Danny Madigan who escapes dull Shakespeare lessons and the mean streets of New York City (filmed like it's Tim Burton's Gotham City) by spending nearly every waking minute at a beautiful old fashioned theatre watching action sequels starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Rambo meets John McClane character named Jack Slater.

Having been given a magical ticket--originally handed off by Houdini to the theatre's eccentric elderly projectionist Nick when he was a boy-- Danny is thrilled when Nick invites him to screen the newest Slater movie before it opens to test the print. And although by now, you're sure to recognize Shane Black's first influence of Wizard of Oz, it isn't until the new Slater film kicks into gear that we understand Black's second inspiration of 48 Hours.

Since Danny's considerable knowledge of film is so impressive that initially it seemed like Black was writing a kick ass version of Cinema Paradiso, through his whip-smart main character, Black is able to insert a movie junkie post-modern narration putting the kid in the picture to misquote the Robert Evans book.

As heavy metal music blares amidst gunfire, Danny's excitement becomes tangible and the ticket grants his unspoken yet internal Big-like wish, making sure he won't just vicariously live through Slater anymore. Soon Danny finds himself in the reverse situation of Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo by entering the movie during the high speed car chase, just like Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon were able to do with Maguire's favorite '50s television program in the far superior Pleasantville years later.

While ordinarily this could've been used by Black to comment on his genre of choice as the phoniness of Hollywood creeps in immediately to initially humorous effect, soon the movie collapses under its own momentous weight as a product rather than a production with the purpose to entertain Tinsletown instead of us.

Over-the-top and outrageous, Last Action Hero is often guilty of horrifically bad taste and despite the fact that Schwarzenegger's Kindergarten Cop wasn't
as harmless as The Pacifier, by pushing the envelope as well, at least Kindergarten possessed actual humor and something resembling a heart.

In cool contrast, the ice-cold Action Hero however is laughably rated PG-13 despite scenes wherein a maniac holds a kid hostage with an axe, throws a child's body off the roof along with footage of Danny packing a gun, getting chained to a toilet, and asking Jack to shoot him in the head. Throughout all of this, you'll undoubtedly ask yourself just which target audience the filmmakers were hoping to appeal as it's not appropriate for kids nor is it as exciting as director John McTiernan's other work that attracts audiences seventeen and up.

Bad beyond belief, Last Action Hero is one of those "only-in-Hollywood" marvels that makes you wish studio executives would be forced to leave their usual zip codes to spend time in the real world for awhile. And especially since it's painfully obvious that nobody involved knew the first thing about children, the best remedy would've been to make Danny a few years older to make it seem slightly more appropriate. However, this still wouldn't have redeemed a script that gets lost in the action wherein the heightened movie world of Jack Slater throws perfectly good jokes away by distracting us ADD style with more fiery bright explosions in the background but it would've been a start.

Of course, it would also have been helpful if we felt that Danny would return to a real world that actually seemed real, since in Last Action Hero's version of New York in the 1990's, his mother (Mercedes Rheul) speaks solely in exposition, and the NYPD just sends a kids home alone after they've been robbed and chained to toilets without supervision or assisting his mother in getting time off from work.

A misfire with such a great idea behind it, part of me wonders if Hero may have been inspired by Black's real love of film when he was a boy. Unfortunately as filmed, we'll never know since every single scene of this Last Action Hero is used to shove the idea that “now THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is a freaking blockbuster” down our throats in a work you can also dub Hollywood Egos Run Amok. While sadly, it wouldn't be the "last action hero" picture to succumb to this approach, at least viewers discover that Sony's impressive Blu-ray transfer has a trivia track to distract you from its failings during the 131 minute running time.

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FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.