Cult Movie: 1990s Arnie mis-fire Last Action Hero deserved better than to become dinosaur food

Arnie takes aim – at a dinosaur, perhaps
Ralph McLean

Last Action Hero

WHEN it comes to the facts, it's hard to argue that Last Action Hero was anything but a disaster on its original release. Billed as "the next great summer action movie" when it appeared in 1993, it was a clever 'movie within a movie' action spoof that should, in theory at least, have done serious business.

Boasting a swaggering Arnold Schwarzenegger at the very peak of his action hero status as its lead, a knowing screenplay that toyed with Hollywood conventions impressively and Die Hard director John McTiernan behind the camera to ensure it delivered on the explosive action front as well, what could possibly go wrong?

Sadly, once Sony saw fit to release it the very same week that Universal sent the all-conquering Jurassic Park out into the world, Last Action Hero got royally whipped at the box office by Spielberg's much hyped prehistoric game changer and wound up costing the studio something like $26 million in the process.

Arnie, who'd been flying high post-Terminator 2, was suddenly a flawed and fallible leading man and the film's status as a major turkey was seemingly assured forever. However, time has been kind to Last Action Hero: watching it today, it feels like a film screaming out for a little critical love in 2020.

Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brien) is a lonely kid living with his widowed mother in their tiny flat. He spends most of his time kicking around an old run down cinema with his projectionist friend Nick (Robert Proskey). His favourite films to escape with are the Jack Slater series, knuckle-headed action hero offerings starring a muscle-bound Arnie.

When Nick invites Danny to a screening of the latest Jack Slater epic and hands the youngster a special ticket given to him years previously by Houdini, the youngster is suddenly able to jump right out of his cinema seat and into the actual movie unfolding on the screen before him.

He hangs out with his hero Slater and helps him tackle the evil bad guy Mr Benedict (played with scenery crunching charm by Charles Dance), which leads to all kinds of stunts and shenanigans – but the real fun starts when Benedict realises the ticket can also grant him access to the real world.

Once he, with Slater and Danny hot on his heels, start getting to grips with the everyday life in America, the sparks really start to fly.

Delivered at a breakneck pace and packed full of smart twists on Hollywood tradition and familiar movie tropes, Last Action Hero is perhaps a little too clever for its own good – in one particularly meta moment, Arnie gets to play himself at the 'real' premiere of Jack Slater 4 while his movie counterpart bursts into the cinema to try and save him from an old nemesis who's been re-animated from the films to get a little revenge – but it's great fun all the same.

Pity those pesky dinosaurs meant that no one saw it at the time.

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