'The Last Action Hero'- Movie Review

"The Last Action Hero" flopped - both commercially and critically - when it was released in 1993. I was among the small number of people who liked it. Arnold Schwarzenegger parodying himself? Count me in ...

The movie starts with Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brien, who would have been 11 or 12 during filming) at a late show of "Jack Slater III" in a very run-down theatre in New York. He's almost alone in the very large theatre, and when the image goes bad he runs up to wake Nick, the projectionist (Robert Prosky), who's clearly a friend of his.

The big story driver is the projectionist previewing a copy of "Jack Slater IV," to which he invites Danny - complete with a movie ticket Nick got from Harry Houdini but never used: the ticket turns out to be magic and hurls Danny into Jack Slater's world.

Jack Slater is a stock 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger character. He's a cop, he survives anything with at most minor injuries, he's spectacularly macho, etc. etc. Danny points out that this is clearly a movie they're in and they bicker. Things get ugly when one of the bad guys gets the ticket and manages to escape the movie to our world, and Jack and Danny have to follow him. Jack Slater finds out that things actually hurt in our world.

They manage to mock almost every action movie trope, as well as Schwarzenegger's persona - both on and off screen (the inclusion of the "real" Schwarzenegger and his real-life wife Maria Schriver at a movie premiere is brilliant). The movie is badly structured and could have used some cutting for structure and for time, but despite that it's very funny and impressively meta. In fact, I'd argue you can draw a straight line from it to 2006's (admittedly better) "Stranger Than Fiction."

The number of cameo appearances is incredible, and many of them improve the movie because it's a movie about movies. The cameos by Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick (who played the T-1000 in Schwarzenegger's "Terminator 2") appear early on: they only last about three seconds each (and are apparently almost invisible in the 4:3 version, so watch it on Netflix in beautiful widescreen!), which gives you an indicator of the star power this thing was tossing around. They're beautifully played as Danny is trying to explain to Jack they're in a movie, but of course Jack doesn't recognize them as movie stars. We also have Jean-Claude Van Damme, Tina Turner, Ian McKellen as Ingmar Bergman's "Death" (yes, "Bill and Ted" got there first), Chevy Chase, and dozens of now-forgotten 80s and 90s celebrities. And Al Leong - not so much a cameo, but because he was a henchman in everything back then.

Highly recommended for fans of 1980s or 1990s action movies.