Last Action Hero (PG-13)
Great but Forgotten; IMDb; Mill Creek Entertainment; Rotten Tomatoes; Sony Pictures; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
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This review could have gone under "action" or "quirky" or "fantasy" or... whatever. I dunno. But I'm putting it under "comedy," because it's funny and it has to go somewhere, and that's as good a category as any.
The movie came out in 1993, but I didn't see it until 2017. It's something I always wanted to see, though I didn't know much about it (or maybe by the time I watched it, I'd just forgotten whatever I knew about it at the time it was released). The only thing I can really say is that somehow I thought Mercedes Ruehl's role in the movie was going to be bigger than it turned out to be. So that's kind of disappointing. But otherwise, I ended up liking the movie a lot more than I expected to. And anyone who doesn't love this movie is objectively wrong. I also want to mention that the plot actually reminds me of various ideas I've had, over the years, for similar stories. But even if I knew what the plot was when it came out, by the time I had those ideas, I certainly had no idea they were reminiscent of this, and probably not of anything I'd seen or heard of before. I dunno.
So anyway, it starts out as an action movie, which is kind of ridiculous in how explicit the action movie tropes are. (But of course that's intentional, for reasons that will soon become clear.) There's a loose cannon cop named Jack Slater, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it's not long before we learn that all that is just a movie-within-the-movie, which is being watched by a kid named Danny Madigan (who was cutting school at the time). He was almost entirely alone in a very run-down theater (which looked like it was fairly grand, decades ago). And he's friends with the projectionist, an old man named Nick. Nick tells Danny that he's going to be screening the new movie "Jack Slater IV" that night at midnight, and invites him to come watch it. And this turns out to be possible because Danny's mother, Irene (Ruehl), works a night shift. And she's a widow, which means she has to leave Danny home alone. And then... after she goes to work, but before Danny leaves to see the movie, a guy breaks into the apartment. (I gotta say, I thought that later on, Jack Slater would get revenge against that crook, but he didn't, which is a bit disappointing.)
Anyway, after reporting the break-in to the cops, Danny goes to the theater. And Nick gives him a ticket which he claims was given to him by Harry Houdini, many years ago. It's supposed to be a magic ticket, but Nick never had the courage to use it (mainly because if it didn't do anything magical, it would have ruined his hero worship of Houdini). But Danny uses it to watch the new Jack Slater movie. And a little ways into the film, he finds himself in the movie. He tries to convince Jack of this, but despite the fact that he knows some things he couldn't possibly know (unless he'd seen them in movies), Jack doesn't believe him. Which is kind of understandable, not only because Danny's claim sounds crazy, but because anything that happens in movies that would make no sense in the real world, make sense to anyone whose own "real world" is a movie. (This includes an animated cat cop named Whiskers, voiced by Danny DeVito.)
Anyway, Danny tags along with Jack, investigating a complicated set-up that Danny had witnessed before getting sucked into the movie. There's a mob boss named Tony Vivaldi (Anthony Quinn), who had kidnapped Jack's second cousin, and fed him some false information about a merger with another gang. Despite Jack disbelieving pretty much everything Danny says, he allows him to help thwart Vivaldi's plan. However, that only takes us about halfway through the movie. Because at one point, Benedict had stolen Danny's ticket, when he and some goons showed up at the home of Jack's ex-wife (who wasn't home). But it was there that Danny met Jack's daughter, Whitney, whom he kept calling "Meredith" (the name of the actress playing Whitney in the Jack Slater movie, though in reality she's played by Bridgette Wilson). Anyway, Benedict eventually uses Danny's ticket to enter the "real" world, so Danny and Jack have to follow him and try to stop his plans. Of course, this is made more difficult because in the real world, well, real world rules apply, and Jack isn't as invulnerable as he is when there's a script full of ridiculous movie logic keeping him safe. Also, Benedict soon realizes that in the real world, unlike the movie world, it's possible for the bad guy to win. (Honestly, he's a lot quicker on the uptake than Jack is.)
And I guess that's all I want to say about the plot. Look, I could understand anyone thinking it's a dumb movie. And certainly there are elements to it that aren't great. But for the most part, I thought it was great. There are some very clever touches, and a lot of good humor, and I felt that some of the dramatic beats were genuinely, you know, dramatic. You know, now that I think about it, the whole thing kind of reminds me of Elementary, Dear Data. Kind of. Anyway, the whole thing is very meta (especially when the real Arnold Schwarzenegger ends up fighting Jack Slater). And... well, there might be some things I would have done differently. Like, I would have made Whitney a bigger part of the movie. (She's clearly a badass, like Jack.) But I wouldn't have changed much. I think Benedict was a pretty great villain. And the basic concept of the movie... maybe could have been done more effectively as a series, but given the limitations of a movie, I think it was pretty nearly perfect.