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06/07/2018    

06/07

Last Action Hero

Last Action Hero is a 1993 American fantasy action-comedy film directed and produced by John McTiernan. It is a satire of the action genre and associated clichés, containing several parodies of action films in the form of films within the film. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jack Slater, a Los Angeles police detective within the Jack Slater action film franchise. Austin O'Brien co-stars as a boy magically transported into the Slater universe. Schwarzenegger also served as the film's executive producer and plays himself as the actor portraying Jack Slater, and Charles Dance plays an assassin who escapes from the Slater world into the real world.

Though the film was a box-office disappointment during its initial theatrical release, it became a cult film among fans and critics. The film also features Art Carney's last appearance in a motion picture.

Plot

Danny Madigan is a teenager living in a crime-ridden area of New York City with his widowed mother, Irene. Following the death of his father, Danny takes comfort in watching action movies, especially those featuring the indestructible Los Angeles cop Jack Slater, at his local movie theater owned by Nick, who also acts as the projectionist. Nick gives Danny a golden ticket once owned by Harry Houdini, to see an early preview of the latest Jack Slater film before its official release.

During the film, the ticket stub magically transports Danny inside the fictional world of the film, interrupting Slater in the middle of a car chase. After escaping their pursuers, Slater takes Danny to the LAPD headquarters, where Danny points out the fictional nature of the world, such as the presence of a cartoon cat detective named Whiskers, and that Slater's friend John Practice is played by the same actor who was the antagonist that killed Mozart from Amadeus and shouldn't be trusted; Slater takes these as part of Danny's wild imagination. Slater's supervisor, Dekker, assigns Danny as his new partner, and instructs them to investigate criminal activities related to mobster Tony Vivaldi.

Danny guides Slater to Vivaldi's mansion, having recognized its location from the start of the film. There, they meet Vivaldi and his henchman, Mr. Benedict. Danny explains the criminal deeds that the two had carried out from the film, but Slater has no evidence, and they are forced to leave; however, Benedict is curious as to how Danny knew of what transpired, and he and several hired guns follow Slater and Danny back to Slater's home. There, Slater, his daughter Whitney, and Danny, thwart the attack, though Benedict ends up getting the ticket stub. He discovers its ability to transport him out of the film.

Slater learns of Vivaldi's plan to murder his rival mob by releasing a lethal gas during a funeral atop a skyscraper. He and Danny go to stop it, but are waylayed by Practice, who reveals that Danny was right as he was working for Vivaldi. Whiskers arrives to save Slater and Danny's lives, and the two are able to prevent any deaths by the gas release. Learning that Vivaldi's plan has failed, Benedict kills him, and uses the stub to escape into the real world, pursued by Slater and Danny.

Slater becomes despondent upon learning the truth, as well as his mortality in the real world, but cheers up after spending some time with Irene. Meanwhile, Benedict devises a plan to kill Arnold Schwarzenegger, the one portraying Slater in the film, from which he then can bring other villains from other films into the real world and take over. To help, Benedict brings the Ripper, the villain of the previous Jack Slater movie, to assassinate Schwarzenegger. Danny and Slater learn of this, and race to the premiere. Slater saves Schwarzenegger, electrocutes the Ripper, and after a decisive battle, kills Benedict by shooting his explosive glass eye; however, this also causes the stub to be destroyed. With Slater losing blood, Danny knows that the only way to save him is to return him to the fictional world, since he is indestructible there. The figure of Death from the film The Seventh Seal, who had previously escaped his film, appears to Danny, and suggests that he searches for the other stub of the ticket. Danny finds the stub, and is able to take Slater back into the film, with his wounds instantly healing. Danny returns to the real world before the portal closes. A recovered Slater then enthusiastically embraces the true nature of his reality when he talks to Dekker about his new plan, appreciating the differences between it and the "real" world.

Cast

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jack Slater / himself
  • Austin O'Brien as Danny Madigan
  • Charles Dance as Benedict, Vivaldi's right-hand man, a supporting antagonist in Jack Slater IV who becomes the true antagonist of the main film
  • Robert Prosky as Nick the projectionist
  • Tom Noonan as the Ripper / himself, the main antagonist of Jack Slater III
  • Frank McRae as Lieutenant Dekker, Slater's immediate supervisor, who is always screaming at him
  • Anthony Quinn as Tony Vivaldi, the main antagonist of Jack Slater IV until Danny's interference changes events
  • Bridgette Wilson as Whitney Slater (Jack's daughter) and Meredith Caprice, the actress who plays her in the Slater films
  • F. Murray Abraham as John Practice, Jack's friend, revealed to be a traitor. Danny says not to trust him, saying he killed Mozart, referring to Abraham's Oscar-winning role in Amadeus.
  • Mercedes Ruehl as Irene Madigan, Danny's mom
  • Art Carney as Frank Slater, in his last film role
  • Professor Toru Tanaka as Tough Asian Man
  • Ryan Todd as Andrew Slater, Jack's son who is killed in Jack Slater III by the Ripper
Cameo appearances
  • Franco Columbu appears during the opening credits as director of Jack Slater IV.
  • Tina Turner appears at the climax of Jack Slater III as the mayor of Los Angeles.
  • When Danny and Jack arrive at LAPD headquarters, Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick appear outside the front door as Catherine Tramell (from Basic Instinct) and the T-1000 (from Terminator 2: Judgment Day), respectively. Stone had earlier played Schwarzenegger's wife in Total Recall.
  • Inside the LAPD headquarters, an officer shouts, "Hey Slater! It's your ex-wife on two!" This is actor Mike Muscat, who also played Moshier in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, one of the Cyberdyne Security officers on the phone who calls the police to say, "I think it's that guy from the mall. Him and the woman." Coincidentally, Muscat was also Edward Furlong's acting coach.
  • Sylvester Stallone as the Terminator is on a poster promoting Terminator 2: Judgment Day. This appears to be a playful jab at Schwarzenegger's close rivalry with Stallone.
  • Model/actress Angie Everhart as a video store clerk
  • During the premiere of Jack Slater IV in the real world, several celebrities appear as themselves. These include Schwarzenegger's then-wife Maria Shriver, Little Richard, Entertainment Tonight host Leeza Gibbons, James Belushi (who starred with Schwarzenegger in Red Heat), Damon Wayans, Chevy Chase, Timothy Dalton (James Bond at that time), and Jean-Claude Van Damme (who worked with John McTiernan on the film Predator as the original Predator before dropping out).
  • As Jack and Danny enter the movie theater to find Arnold Schwarzenegger, MC Hammer asks Slater about a deal to do the Jack Slater V soundtrack.
  • Wilson Phillips appear singing during the funeral scene
  • Ian McKellen as Death emerges from Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal.
  • Danny DeVito (uncredited) is the voice of Whiskers (a cartoon cat police detective), after Schwarzenegger and he played brothers in Twins.
  • Joan Plowright is the English teacher who shows her class the 1948 film adaptation of Hamlet, which starred and was directed by Plowright's husband Laurence Olivier.

Background and production

Last Action Hero was an original screenplay by Zak Penn and Adam Leff, meant to parody typical action-film screenplays of writers such as Shane Black. Penn noted himself that the studio ironically then had Black rewrite the script. The original screenplay differs heavily from the finished film and is widely available to read online. Although it was still a parody of Hollywood action films, it was set almost entirely in the film world and focused largely on the futile cycle of violence displayed by the hero and the effect it had on people around him. Due to the radical changes, Penn and Leff were eventually credited with the story of the film, but not the screenplay, which is unusual for a film based on an original screenplay.

Schwarzenegger received a salary of $15 million for his role in the film.

Years after its release, the film was the subject of a scathing chapter called "How They Built The Bomb", in the Nancy Griffin book Hit and Run which detailed misadventures at Sony Pictures in the early to mid-1990s. Among the details presented in this chapter were:

  • Universal moved Jurassic Park to June 11, 1993 well after Sony had decided on a June 18 release date for Last Action Hero.
  • The movie was rumored to be the first advertisement placed on a space-going rocket.
  • The film was capsized by a wave of negative publicity after a rough cut of it was shown to a preview audience on May Day. Sony then destroyed the test cards and the word-of-mouth proved to be catastrophic for the film.
  • The shooting and editing schedule were so demanding and so close to the June 18 release date that after the movie's disaster, a source close to the film said that they "shouldn't have had Siskel and Ebert telling us the movie is 10 minutes too long".
  • Sony was even more humiliated the weekend after the film opened, when the movie lost 47% of its opening-weekend audience and had TriStar's Sleepless in Seattle open as the number-two movie at the box office.
  • The final declared financial loss for the film was $26 million.
  • Last Action Hero was the first film to be released using Sony Dynamic Digital Sound, but only a few theaters were set up for the new format, and many of those experienced technical problems with the new system. Insiders at Paramount reportedly referred to it as "Still Doesn't Do Shit".

Release

At the time of its release, the film was billed as "the next great summer action movie" and many movie insiders predicted it would be a huge blockbuster, especially following the success of Schwarzenegger's previous film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It was released the same day the 20th Century Fox film Once Upon a Forest was released.

Box office

The film opened at number two at the weekend box-office behind Jurassic Park and grossed US$15,338,241 on its opening weekend, for an average of $6,651 from 2,306 theaters, and ended its run with $50,016,394 in the United States, and an additional $87,202,095 overseas, for a total of $137,298,489 worldwide. In an A&E biography of Schwarzenegger, the actor (who was also the film's executive producer) says that the film could have done better if not for bad timing, since it came out a week after Jurassic Park which went on to break box-office records as one of the top-grossing films of all time.

Schwarzenegger states that he tried to persuade his coproducers to postpone the film's June 18 release in the United States by four weeks, but they turned a deaf ear on the grounds that the movie would have lost millions of dollars in revenue for every weekend of the summer it ended up missing, also fearing that delaying the release would create negative publicity, he told the authors of Hit and Run that while everyone involved with the production had given their best effort, their attempt to appeal to both action and comedy fans resulted in a film that appealed to neither audience and ultimately succumbed to heavy competition.

The film was released in the United Kingdom on July 30, 1993, and opened at number three, behind Jurassic Park and Dennis. The next weekend, the film moved up one place, before falling down to number 10 by August 13, 1993.

Critical reception and awards

The film received mixed to negative reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film received an approval rating of 34% based on 47 reviews, with an average rating of 4.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, " Last Action Hero has most of the right ingredients for a big-budget action spoof, but its scattershot tone and uneven structure only add up to a confused, chaotic mess." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 44 out of 100 based on 19 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.

Vincent Canby likened the film to "a two-hour 'Saturday Night Live' sketch" and called it "something of a mess, but a frequently enjoyable one".

Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4, writing that despite some entertaining moments, Last Action Hero "plays more like a bright idea than like a movie that was thought through. It doesn't evoke the mystery of the barrier between audience and screen the way Woody Allen did in The Purple Rose of Cairo, and a lot of the time it simply seems to be standing around commenting on itself."

About the movie's failure and critical response, John McTiernan said: "Initially, it was a wonderful Cinderella story with a nine-year-old boy. We had a pretty good script by Bill Goldman, charming. And this ludicrous hype machine got hold of it, and it got buried under bullshit. It was so overwhelmed with baggage. And then it was whipped out unedited, practically assembled right out of the camera. It was in the theater five or six weeks after I finished shooting. It was kamikaze, stupid, no good reason for it. And then to open the week after Jurassic Park--God! To get to the depth of bad judgment involved in that you'd need a snorkel."

The film was nominated for six Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst New Star (Austin O'Brien), and Worst Original Song ("Big Gun"), but it did not win any.

Home video

On February 3, 2009, Last Action Hero was reissued on DVD by Sony Pictures Entertainment in a double-feature set with the 1986 film Iron Eagle. It was released on the high-definition Blu-ray Disc format on January 12, 2010. The Blu-ray release presented the film in its original widescreen format for the first time in the United States since the LaserDisc release.

Further reading

  • Parish, James Robert (2006). Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. p. 359. ISBN 978-0-471-69159-4. 

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