A young film fan named Danny (Austin O’Brien) is sucked into a cinema screen, suddenly finding himself bang in the middle of an action film alongside his hero – the badass movie cop Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Watching Last Action Hero, one can’t help but ask: who the hell is this aimed at?! The answer, it seems, is me. It’s postmodern, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it’s about a film-obsessed kid called Danny.
Admittedly, making a film for one specific individual isn’t the most financially viable enterprise – particularly when that person was only two years old when the film was released in 1993. Indeed, Last Action Hero bombed at the box office, despite an unprecedented publicity campaign that saw Arnie give 94 press interviews in 24 hours – a new personal best.
According to IMDb: “Schwarzenegger considered Last Action Hero his first real failure after an unbroken string of successes. He also considered it the beginning of the end of his film career.” This seems unfair, particularly when one remembers that he’d already starred in Twins.
Clearly, the stakes for this movie were way too high. In fact, they were literally stratospheric – Last Action Hero became the first film to be advertised in space, when the title was daubed on the side of an unmanned NASA rocket. Maybe the film proved more popular among aliens than it did on Earth.
But there’s actually a lot here to enjoy, including a cartoon cat, a trailer for Arnie’s Hamlet and a villainously good performance from Charles Dance – a role turned down by Alan Rickman who wanted more money, which prompted Charles Dance to wear a t-shirt on set that read: “I’m cheaper than Alan Rickman!”
The film cleverly sends up action movies, celebrity culture and, in one scene, vapid red carpet coverage. Director John McTiernan satirises the genre he helped to shape, just as Wes Craven would later do with Scream. Both movies are populated by people who’ve actually watched movies – this film does for action what Scream does for horror.
Of course, it’s nowhere near as good as Scream – it’s messy, nonsensical and Ian McKellen’s part could really be cut altogether. But I smiled through every bizarre minute of it. It’s completely nuts, but at its best this film about film is smart, interesting and quite sweet.
“In this world, the bad guys can win” explains Charles Dance upon leaving movieland and entering our depressing universe – “this world stinks!” exclaims Danny. Last Action Hero explores the consequences of violence in the real world where people get hurt, unlike in the movies – and that’s why we like them.