Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Schwarzenegger Sunday: Last Action Hero

For an overview of what Schwarzenegger Sunday is all about, check out the Marching Orders above. Note – there will always be spoilers.

What, you thought we were done? With so many more Arnold classics to examine? OK, perhaps we hit all the classics already, but we have unfinished business. There won't be a regular schedule or anything, but it's high time we got to the movies that slipped through the cracks. First on the docket, 1993's Last Action Hero.

Last Action Hero was designed to utilize all of Schwarzenegger's star power. In it, Arnold pulls double-duty, playing himself as well as fictional Los Angeles cop/professional badass, Jack Slater. Danny Madigan, a kid who spends all his free time at the local movie theater, hanging with the septuagenarian projectionist, is one of Slater's biggest fans. He is so eager to view the fourth installment of the Jack Slater series that the projectionist gives him a free screening as well as a "golden ticket" originally given to him by Harry Houdini. Ooooh. Somehow, this ticket makes the movie come to life and when dynamite explodes within the theater, Danny is sent flying directly into the picture, landing in the back of Slater's convertible. Using his steep knowledge of the Jack Slater series he is able to help against the bad guys while poking fun at movie cliches along the way. However, when one of the characters with nefarious intentions gets his hands on the ticket and arrives in the "real world," Danny and Slater have no choice but to follow him. Now "real" people are dying and Slater has to nab the bad guy without the usual movie magic to assist him.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: Slater tries to find the right deadpan cheekiness throughout the film. This means he's taking every opportunity to drop a line. Whether any of these actually work is up for debate, but I at least found the following amusing, if a bit blatant: 3
Scharzenegger as Hamlet: “To be or not to be? Not to be.
He's supposed to be on duty. He was only suspended for a month. Now shut up.
Yes, could I speak to the drug dealer of the house, please? It's a beautiful day, and we're out killing drug dealers.
“Where are you going?” “Got to catch the redeye.
Leo the fart is gonna pass gas one more time.
Silent, but deadly.
That is for blowing up my second-cousin Frank's house.” (punches him) “This is for blowing up my ex-wife's house.” (slaps his hand)

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: This category is more difficult to judge than ever. Normally, inserting more zingers is generally considered a good thing. But in this case, Arnold never really finds the right way to play it, not that there was a right way. It's almost like he knows the material is so terrible that opted to mutter his way through it. These are beyond terrible. Yes, I realize that was kind of the point. 9
Hey, do you want to be a farmer? Here's a couple of 'achers'.
“You're driving with no hands!” “You think it's easy? You have to practice a lot! And never ever do it in heavy traffic.
Iced that guy, to cone a phrase.
I'm sorry, but you're going to have to live to enjoy all the fruits life has to offer: acne, shaving, premature ejaculation. And your first divorce.
What does a doctor treat?.” “Patients.” “Look at the elbow on my jacket. What's it doing?.” “Wearing thin?.”
Don't give up your day job.
Don't leave home without it.
It's a no-fly zone, fella.
...I should note - there were many that did not get recorded. It became overwhelming at one point because they were all so damn terrible. Please find it in your heart to forgive me.

“I’ll be back.”: Of course in a movie spoofing Arnold's career, they had to include one of these, and they manage to have some fun with it. While the kid pesters Slater about how he can predict his speech, Slater declares, "I'll be back. I bet you didn't know I was going to say that!" More later. Kinda. 6

Smarmy Villain: Things are bit confusing on this front, but it all plays out as we expect here at Schwarzenegger Sunday. Initially, it appears that Anthony Quinn's Tony Vivaldi is our man, and he really sells it: "I should tell you that I have killed people smarter and younger than you." Benedict, played by Charles Dance, complete with smarmy beard and frequently changing glass eye (which doubles as an explosive), is initially introduced in the R&THenchman position. Danny even asks him as much: "Sir, are you a henchman?" "No, I only go as high as a lackey." Benedict is of course playing possum, and quickly does away with Quinn. He then finds the golden ticket which allows him to gain access to the "real world" and assume his more appropriate role as the Smarmy Villain. OK, so that's the explanation, how about the performance? As campy and stupid as this movie may be, Dance makes for an incredibly smarmy, ruthless, and clever villain. He's got enough personality to make the movie compelling, and his self-discovery of the real world (and lack of police activity therein) is entertaining as hell: "Hello! I've just shot somebody - I did it on purpose. I said, I have murdered a man and I want to confess!" Also, he has a neck tattoo way before that kind of thing became fashionable (i.e. before Allen Iverson). Badass. Originally, Alan Rickman, William Atherton or Timothy Dalton was to be cast in this role, but Dance's understated boil was a better fit. 8
Rough and Tumble Henchman: With the power of the golden ticket, Benedict goes back to Jack Slater III and retrieves the villain of that film, The Ripper. Notable in that The Ripper killed Jack Slater's son. He's most certainly menacing in a disfigured kind of way, and definitely a henchman, but not exactly rough and tumble. 7
Diminutive Sidekick: Danny Madigan is played by Austin O'Brien who, outside of a significant role in My Girl 2 and a cameo in Apollo 13, hasn't been in very many films of note. Given his performance here, it's not hard to see why. Perhaps we should be blaming director John McTiernan, but he is really, really dorky - far too dorky for a kid of his age. Quotes like "Oooh, are you gonna pay!" should have been altered if he's supposed to be the one from the real world. Also, he's just far too self aware, playing up the "movie within a movie" theme: "I know he's OK, Both cops dead." It's not really his fault; the part was just written far too cutesy, and he's not a very good actor. OK, maybe that is his fault. Also, are we sure this was 1993? Look at his damn mullet! All that said, he fits the diminutive sidekick role to a tee. 10
Rejected hot love interest: Even though Slater is a cop in Movie Los Angeles, and the place is crawling with babes, he can't seem to hook up with any of them because "this is a PG-13 movie". More on that topic later. Worth noting is the film debut of Bridgette Wilson Sampras who plays Slater's teenage daughter and whose presence in this film prompted a dude who lived in my 1994 dorm floor to fall madly in love with her. Seriously he was talking about her for months. Turns out he should have been working on his groundstrokes. n/a.
Not nearly hot enough love interest: You could argue that Mercedes Reuhl was born to play a Schwarzenegger NNHELI. She's interesting, passionate, obliquely attractive, yet certainly not hot enough. When Slater and Danny arrive at his apartment in the real world, Slater and Reuhl (Danny's mother) stay up talking all night and have clearly hit it off. Sadly, their connection remains unrequited, but it's the strongest personal relationship on display in the film. n/a

Arnold yelling: There is a ton of yelling, but few true hollers. My favorite would be at the mafia rooftop funeral when he shouts, "Look! Elephant!" 6

Arnold cursing poignantly: Early in the film, we get one "Oh shit," but Arnold's mouth remains soapy clean for the remainder. However, we get a gag that totally falls flat as Danny tries to prove to Slater that he's part of a film and not actually real. He writes down a word and asks Slater to say it. He is unable, to which Danny exclaims, "See, it's a PG-13 movie!" Ugh. 3

Arnold crazyface: Slater plays it cool all the way through. I had begun to think Arnold's facelifts had gotten the better of us. But then, at the very end of the film and shrouded in a dark rain, we get what a glimpse of we came for. It almost looks like the opening scene in Total Recall! 7
Superfluous Explosions: Early on, I thought we'd be setting a new record. Slater lights bundles of dynamite with his cigar and tosses them out of his moving car. And entire house is sent skyward. But after the first 25 minutes, we are kaboom-free. Well, except for one moment which we'll get to in a minute. Given the the short spree of explosions I can't in good conscience consider them all that superfluous. 5
Director: John McTiernan also directed Arnold in Predator, the first film to get the Schwarzenegger Sunday treatment. It is interesting to note that up to this point in his career, McTiernan had experienced a ton of success (if you don't count 1992's Medicine Man). But from here on, it's been a steady stream of stinkers, most notably that abominable Rollerball remake. Perhaps this film was the beginning of the end for him, though technically he's still working and has three films in production.

Franco Columbu: 5 We don't actually get to see Franco, but when the credits roll for Jack Slater IV, we learn this interesting fact in the opening credits:
Sven Ole-Thorsen: Also n/a

Shirtless Arnold: Arnold must have thought he was getting old. In all the movies we've SSed, there were few categories more consistent than this one. But after keeping his clothes on for True Lies, he goes with the tight T-shirt throughout this one. However, at the tail end of the movie, after being shot in the chest, they cut his shirt open in an ambulance. 2

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: The Ripper ends up confronting Slater on rooftop just as he did in Jack Slater III, only this time he has Danny in his clutches instead of Slater's son. He throws Danny over the edge, but doesn't notice that he's standing in a puddle and holding a metal grate. Slater electrocutes him with a conveniently live wire. The Ripper wails, "Iiiiii'llllll beeeee baaaaack," to which Slater retorts, "The hell you will!" Did they even write a script for this scene? 5

Even more severely brutal killing of villain: We've come to expect a certain level of gruesomeness in the demise of our villains. While this one is somewhat creative, it's hardly on par. Slater shoots Benedict in the glass eye, which of course explodes because it's a bomb. As mentioned above, this is a PG-13 movie. Had it been Rated R, the blood-factor and gruesome-level would have been much more intense 4

Plausibly implausible plot: OK, how seriously am I supposed to take this one? Of course this is an implausible plot. They lowered the curtain on the fourth wall, so implausibility is the main idea here. At no point in the movie do we take it seriously enough to be convinced that any aspect of it plausible. In fact, that's one of the big problems here. A better child actor and an R rating may have made this possible. Or perhaps a different director. n/a

Ambiguous ending: Slater is shot in the chest and surely about to die. But via the golden ticket, Danny is able to save him by sending him back to the movie world where the doctors say he is stricken with "merely a flesh wound." The only ambiguous thing about the ending is whether Danny got a spanking from his mother when he arrived home late again. And frankly, unless she's walloping him with a heavy belt buckle, we don't care. n/a

Last Action Hero is a campy comedy wearing the clothes of a serious action flick, but not the face. For a fantasy film, the script is significantly lacking in the imagination department. Avoiding a run of the mill storyline would have been a good idea. When people think about Schwarzenegger duds, two movies generally come to mind: Last Action Hero and Jingle All The Way (please, please don't make me review that one). But there's a very wide line between the two relative failures. Marketed as another Schwarzenegger action flick, Last Action Hero remains largely misunderstood. Part of that is due to the confusing name, and also because the studio made the poor decision to release it one week after Jurassic Park. That little dinosaur movie went on to gross over 350 million dollars in the US alone. The kid is utterly intolerable, and brings everything to a halt whenever he's on screen. Meanwhile, Arnold is not on top of his game, and the script doesn't give him much to work with. Still, the movie's "likable enough" and Charles Dance's performance gives it something unique. I can't quite recommend it, but there's enough to appreciate that it's not a complete bomb, either. After Total Recall and Terminator 2, there was really nowhere new for Arnold to go, but he gave it a shot anyway. And we were left with this. It's acceptable. Barely.


PMaz said...

I remember getting free tickets to see this in the theater with my brother-in-law. One forgettable movie.

Kozy said...

Austen O'Brien was in Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace, so clearly he was able to recover from The Last Action Hero. Also, he is was in 67 episodes of "Promised Land" on the Christian Network.