Nick: There are lots of things worse than movies: politicians, wars, forest fires, famine, plague, sickness, pain, warts, politicians...
Jack Slater: You already mentioned them.
Nick: I know I did. They are twice as bad as anything else.
—Last Action Hero
This lesson delivered from an average Joe to an action hero played by Arnold Schwarzenegger is but one of the moments that plays with added irony seventeen years after the initial release of Last Action Hero. Considered a dunderheaded big-budget flop in its day, Last Action Hero looks considerably better now in its creative self-parody. Even the film's credits are laced with irony: director John McTiernan (Die Hard), composer Michael Kamen (Lethal Weapon), and screenwriters Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) & David Arnott (rewriters of an original script by Zak Penn & Adam Leff) were among the principal purveyors of the style of movie Last Action Hero persistently mocks, and today Penn is the go-to guy for scripting Marvel superhero movies. One thing is as certain now as it was in 1993: Last Action Hero is a one-of-a-kind picture.
Schwarzenegger plays himself playing a popular Dirty Harry-type action hero named Jack Slater, as well as playing himself as himself (got that?). Schwarzengger/Slater is the favorite hero of Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brien), a youngster with a habit of skipping school to sit in a decrepit New York City movie palace. The theater's elderly proprietor Nick (Robert Prosky) invites Danny to come watch "Jack Slater IV" before it opens (as the ads humorously trumpet, "Arnold Schwarzenegger IS 'Jack Slater IV'"), as Nick test-runs the film print in the wee hours. Nick also shares a story about a magical golden ticket he was given by the great conjurer Harry Houdini; lovingly, Nick rips the ticket and gives Danny admission to the greatest adventure of his life. A la Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo, the movie comes to life, first sucking Danny into the screen version of L.A. and later spitting out Danny, Jack, and the movie's villains (Charles Dance and Tom Noonan) into real-world NYC.
Last Action Hero is chock full of in-jokes meant to appeal to Schwarzenegger fans and action movie lovers: plenty of gags about catch phrases, for example, a trailer hilariously depicting the Schwarzenegger version of Hamlet ("To be or not to be? Not to be") and a raft of stars in supporting roles and cameos, including F. Murray Abraham ("the guy who killed Mozart"), Ian McKellen, Tina Turner (as "The Mayor"), Anthony Quinn, Joan Plowright (making cracks about ex-husband Olivier), Art Carney, Little Richard, Sharon Stone and Schwarzenegger's real-life wife Maria Shriver (the most head-turning cameo belongs to a fellow who was, at the time, one of Schwarzenegger's most recent co-stars). Mercedes Ruehl (The Fisher King) is well cast as Danny's mother, who takes a shine to Slater.
Stomping around in leather jacket and snakeskin boots, Schwarzenegger proves very game as the butt of the joke. He gets plenty of funny moments when the surreal picture takes its first existential turn—Danny tries to convince Jack that his world is only a movie—and even poignant moments when the movie takes another sharp left, sending Jack flying into New York. There he discovers Mozart and actually talking to women; he also faces up to the fact that his existence is much more limited than he had ever understood and that "Here, in this world, the bad guys can win." Some of the gags fall deadly flat (I'm looking at you, Whiskers the Animated Police Cat), but even at its most precious, this is a movie you can't take your eyes off of. Flawed but fascinating—and governorship notwithstanding—Last Action Hero remains the most intriguing item on Arnie's resume.
Last Action Hero has long been neglected on home video, so it's nice to see it get a hi-def upgrade on Blu-ray. Sony delivers a solid transfer that's head and shoulders above any previous offering of the film. Color tends to be a bit dull, intentionally (and it's more punchy in the world of "Jack Slater IV"); overall, the image looks flat and a touch soft compared to other films of this vintage, but the disc still gets decent marks all around for detail, color black level, and contrast that seem to render the picture as McTiernan originally conceived it. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix delivers more of a punch; balance is a bit off (with scene-setting ambient effects too loud), but it's a quibble next to the impact of the all-important action effects, which blast away effectively; music and dialogue are also rendered with admirable clarity.
Extras are not the strong suit of this disc, sadly (someone should be here to make a case for the film!), but Sony does offer its movieIQ functionality (cast bios and trivia) via BD-Live.
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