When it was first released The Last Action Hero, which saw Arnold Schwarzenegger reteamed with Predator director John McTiernan, and featuring a script that Shane Black was involved in, the film flopped, failed to find an audience, and marked Arnold’s first failure at the box office.
Time has been kind to the film, and rewatching it for the first time in a couple of decades, it’s hard to not really enjoy this action adventure that skewers the action film genre, and our love of those same movies.
Young Danny (Austin O’Brien) loves his action films, he knows the tropes, what to expect, and he loves Arnold as the no-holds barred cop, Jack Slater. With Jack Slater IV about to hit the theatres, his elderly friend, Nick (Robert Prosky), who owns a dilapidated movie house invites him to screen a copy with him at midnight, and to make it official, he gives young Danny a golden movie ticket which he claims to have received from Houdini himself.
And, it’s a magic ticket that transports Danny into the film, where he proves himself extremely reliable to Slater as he knows who the baddies are, their plan and where to find them, thanks to the first reel of the film.
In a world filled with beautiful people, where most injuries are no more than flesh wounds, and cars explode automatically when you shoot them, Danny is having the time of his life, even as he realises how ridiculous the tropes of the genre are.
But what if the film’s baddie, Benedict (Charles Dance) discovers the ticket and escapes to the hyper-real version of New York that Danny calls home, and villains get away with their actions more often than not.
Of course Danny and Jack will have to follow him, which leads to Slater’s realisation that yes, he is a fictional character, he hates the actor who plays him, who they bump into at the film’s premiere, and the ‘real’ world doesn’t respond to action sequences like a movie.
It’s meta, it’s funny, it’s well-crafted. Sure there’s the kiddie angle by putting a young boy into the film, but it caters tho that Willy Wonka magic ticket factor, and it also features some priceless cameos, both visual and aural (if you know you’re action movies music cues).
It feels like the action version of Scream, which came along a couple of years later and revolutionised the horror genre. I think the film kind of floundered because of the kid angle, and Arnold’s intention of making a PG-13 film to reach a wider audience.
But looking back at it now, it’s surprising fun, funny, and very, very self-aware. And maybe audiences weren’t quite ready for that, or for Arnold to be poking at his own image. Now, it makes for some pretty enjoyable entertainment.