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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Last weekend I watched Last Action Hero for the first time since I saw it in theaters in 1993. I can’t believe this movie is that old! I remember Jurassic Park as the biggest summer movie at the time (and one of the biggest summer movies of all time, period), but Last Action Hero was an enormous flop, especially stateside. It would go on to be nominated for multiple Razzies (not that those awards mean anything at all, and really Nick and I should do a write-up on why they’re pointless) and set back the careers of Schwarzenegger (who would never have a massive hit again) and director John McTiernan (who has been awful since, and who also has immense legal problems).
I don’t blame the failure of LAH on either men, however. I think it is an interesting movie worthy of a second appraisal. Since it is now streaming on Netflix there’s no better time than to check it out once again and re-evaluate what was once considered one of the worst movies of the decade. While it certainly has numerous flaws, I found considerable strength in the performances of Schwarzenegger (who gets great one liners and gets to play himself in a nice bit of meta humor), Charles Dance (as the villainous Benedict), and F. Murray Abraham, who even in schlock is always classy. The one performance that immensely holds back the film is that of the principal lead, Austin O’Brien. The kid is terrible, dragging down scene after scene and sucking the life out of what should have been a great action comedy. Lousy child actors can have the absolute worst impact on a film.
LAH is also a classic case of Hollywood’s massive hubris. Columbia Pictures intended on LAH to draw an enormous audience, despite bad buzz, negative press, infighting, and entirely overlooking the 1993 summer film schedule. At the time it would have been entirely justifiable to expect Schwarzenegger would draw in a hundred million dollars without blinking, but Columbia Pictures chose to entirely ignore pre-screening suggestions and complaints from test audiences. They also chose to completely ignore Jurassic Park’s impending massive popularity, and released LAH only a few short weeks after Spielberg’s monster movie. This would lead to LAH opening up with pitiful numbers and closing with some of the worst mainstream box office totals of Schwarzenegger’s career. As noted earlier, he would never quite recover from this failure.
The film is certainly a mess. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a straight-up action film, a buddy cop comedy, or something else entirely. It blurs the lines much too often between fantasy and reality, so much so that it’s almost more like a parody of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? than just a parody of Die Hard and Die Hard-style action movies. But I do feel like there is enough here to warrant a second look. It is definitely a unique movie, offering up a view of Schwarzenegger when he was at the absolute peak of his popularity, and sometimes it is easy to forget why the guy was the king of action movies for nearly 15 years. Did this film deserve the insane amount of scorn heaped on it? Probably. But Last Action Hero is, despite its flaws, a solid reminder of why everybody loved Arnold.
Next up on the list: True Lies, also available streaming on Netflix.