Friday, 29 April 2011

Defend A Bad Movie: Last Action Hero


- Has to have a rating of less then 50% on both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes

- You have to like it. That's pretty much it.


Ratings: 44% Metacritic, 38% Rotten Tomatoes

Plot: Kid gets transported via magic movie ticket to the world of his favorite Action hero, Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

It's easy to see why this film is hated to the extent that it is. It's a tonal clusterfuck. Painfully earnest n some parts, bluntly ironic in others, capable of surprising levels of darkness yet always feeling somehow like a kids movie. It's got that unwelcome feeling of having been drafted about 100 times by 20 different guys all trying to make a different film. And yeah, comedically the spoofing can get a bit broad. Scratch that very broad. Hey, no-one's calling it a masterpiece, but I feel compelled to defend Last Action Hero from it's pretty shitty reputation, because for all its tonal schizophrenia, there's a much smarter movie lurking around the edges, one with legitimate insights into its genre and perhaps just a little too much love for it.

I think most if not all of the films problems can be relayed back to having a 12 year old kid as a lead. It hurts the meta-commentary aspect of the movie, it hurts the believability of the movie and it means the film relies on Arnold Schwarzenegger to carry things from an acting point of view. You don't believe the kid as anything other then a wide-eyed fan, and certainly not a genre expert like we're told he is. Part of the problem too is that action films have such an 18/R rated pedigree, that's kind of the whole point of them, that a 12/PG-13 spoof of them seems highly nonsensical. How can you properly satirize a genre if your rating prohibits you from thoroughly speaking its language?

This movie owes as much if not more to The Wizard Of Oz then it does to Rambo or Eraser, such is the level of wonderment the kid takes in his action movie Oz. But in a way it forces a sense of wonder onto a satire, a genre all about breaking down convention rather then paying reverence to it. Or child-like enthusiasm has no place in metaphysical, structural piss-riffs. This is perhaps why the action movie world is so exaggerated, past that of even the most incredulous 80's film, featuring cartoon cat cops, and female officers dressed in fetish gear. Perhaps for a genre with such a laissez-faire attitude toward quality as the action movie, you have to be even smarter with how you mock it, otherwise it just looks like a bad movie, with the joke harder and harder to find. Plus the scene where he meets the real life Schwarzenegger is pretty horrible.

And yet, despite much about the film not working, there's moments and scenes which come out of a much better movie. I think once the movie leaves the world of the Jack Slater movie and comes into the real world reality, things get much better. The action movie portion was too simplistic to mine any real quality, but Charles Dance's sardonic performance as mercenary bad guy Benedict, was a welcome grounding feature, but once Benedict escapes to the real world, Dance kind of comes alive, and his delight at the universe no longer conspiring against him in a non-biased reality is probably my favorite thing about the film, but its so good it makes me wish the movie was about an action movie villain in the real world, rather then vice versa.

Any movie that could have this scene can't be all bad, right?

But similarly the little touches of the Slater character discovering he can break convention, he's allowed to like classical music, he's allowed to be interested in a woman for her personality. Small, not world-blowing insights but insights non the less, and the movie does a much better job at deconstructing the genre hilariously when not trying so hard to be hilarious. I also dug the dark turn it takes once it enters our world, where death enters the equation. Like I said, it makes no sense with what's gone before but there's enough to like all the same. I think the film could have been better with a more singular vision, and a greater knowledge and specificity regarding action movie, but there's enough meta-ideas that work here to find something to like. A mess, but a mostly charming mess, and I have no idea why It's got a lower critical reputation then say, Collateral Damage.

Last Action Hero is like a dumb guy with big dreams. It may not know how to properly say what it wants to say, or do what it wants to do, but its sense of ambition is so winning, so unrelenting that after a while, with so many movies so content to not take one risk in hell, that becomes enough.

Verdict: What can I say, I'm a sucker for movies that try to do something. There's a lot wrong with Last Action Hero, but a an outright dud and embarrassment it is not. Charles Dance's awesome performance plus some capable McTiernan direction and some interesting if rough ideas make this at least worth watching once. Collateral Damage Isn't worth shit.

Rating: 6/10

1 comment:

Mike White said...

Our discussion of Last Action Hero has been our most controversial show so far… And, like any blockbuster, it demands a sequel.

The episode:

Call us at 734-274-5904* and leave us a message before October 15, 2011. Tell us your thoughts on the episode, on the film, on what movie you’d enter with a magic ticket… And, please, keep it clean.