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Defending the Unloved: LAST ACTION HERO

Every year plenty of movies come out that are quickly dismissed as not being worth your attention, but sometimes all a movie needs to succeed is a second chance. In “Defending the Unloved” we look at some movie’s that were critically panned, but are a lot better than they were given credit for. Without further ado, we begin:

Last Action Hero

Rotten Tomatoes

Critics Score – 37%
Audience Score – 46%

Joyless, tastelss, and soulless, Last Action Hero can’t decide if it’s an actioner, a comedy or a spoof.”

A poorly executed in-joke where everyone in the audience — Arnold Schwarzenegger fans included — feels left out.”

There is a lot of action in Last Action Hero, but the underlying story never ever quite works.”

Last Action Hero feels like a movie that is judged for all of the things it is not, rather than on the merits for what it really wanted to be. It’s not really an action movie, but there are big action sequences. It’s not a dark examination at the secret miserable life of a fictional character, though it touches upon that. It’s also not a pure comedy, even though it has plenty of jokes and gags. Depending on what movie you thought you were getting when you walked in, you probably walked out feeling as though the film hadn’t delivered on that promise.

It’s too bad, because what the movie really wanted to be was fun, and fun it is.

This postmodern look at the inherent silliness of action movies has a lot of great elements that make it quite enjoyable, and a movie that lends itself perfectly to multiple watches. For one, you have Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his charming, comedic side of his career. His Jack Slater is an amalgamation of every tough-as-nails, above-the-law-and-his-bosses movie cop, but he’s also likable, sad, and empathetic, all while being really funny.


The movie is a light look at the tropes of movies, specifically action films, and it does that incredibly well. There’s the screaming angry boss, totally absurd (and survivable) explosions, physics-defying car chases, overtly dramatic camera pans and close-ups, no blood, and infinite bullets. There are even lots of great subtle touches like zero traffic in Los Angeles, a hero with a wardrobe of identical clothes, only supermodel-looking women walking around, ACME-made products, and “5-5-5” telephone jokes to name a few. The best joke might be the most hidden. The group of kids being held hostage by the homicidal maniac are all white, all blonde. It’s funny, and another small example of the smart commentary sprinkled throughout the movie about the state of Hollywood and our culture. We’re still having those problems over twenty years later. Every time you watch it, you find some small nugget you never noticed before.

The cast itself is just as enjoyable. Besides Arnold at his likable best, you have Tywin Lannister himself, Charles Dance, as the main villain, Anthony Quinn as his inept boss, and both Art Carney and Professor Toru Tanaka in their last credited film roles too. Plus F. Murray Abraham as a fellow cop named Practice, which leads to the great joke about not trusting him because “he killed Mozart.” Brief cameos from Sharon Stone in her Basic Instinct role and Robert Patrick as the T-1000 from Terminator 2 aren’t just funny on their own, they add to the fun of the world the movie exists in. A world where a cartoon cat can be alive and working as an L.A. police officer and no one thinks anything of it.


Then of course you get the incredible treat of Sir Ian McKellan as Death himself. The literal, black robed, sickle-carrying Death. It’s as awesome as you’d imagine it would be.

For any issues there might be with the film’s young star, Austin O’Brien, it’s more than made up for by the rest of the cast.

As for the script, it isn’t perfect, but it has plenty of funny moments, as well as real moments of pathos. When the fictional Jack Slater meets the “real world” Arnold, he blames him for the death of his son, and the pain of his life that he realizes he never really controlled.

It’s that last bit, the “real world,” where it feels like one of the biggest misunderstandings of the movie happens: In the film, the line between the two worlds is clearly marked by the cinematography, with the “real world” being dark and gritty, and the “movie world” presented as bright and shiny.

But there is no “real world.” The film lets us in on the fact that this isn’t just a meta look at movies where we are supposed to consider half of the film less of a movie. It’s all a movie. That’s how we end up on the roof of a building, in a rainstorm, with the villain walking us through his elaborate plan even in the “real world.” At one point, Charles Dance’s character says, “In this world the bad guys can win.” Except they can’t. It’s still a movie. All of it is a movie, and the film doesn’t try to hide that because it’s supposed to be an escape from the unfortunate truth of his statement.

Last Action Hero wanted to be fun–escapism with a subtle message about why we need it in the first place, and why sometimes it has to be silly. Instead it was judged for being all of the things it never wanted or tried to be. It’s unfortunate, there’s a lot of great things going on in this movie, and it deserves your love.

What do you think? Does Last Action Hero deserve another look? Tell us why in the comments below.

Images: Columbia Pictures

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