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Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Last Action Hero

The Last Action Hero was a flop when it was released in 1993, and at the time even the critics didn't like it. I never understood why. It's one of the cleverest, funniest films I've ever seen.

Audiences seem to prefer the dull, predictable True Lies, which was released the next year. (Which I also don't understand.)

The Last Action Hero is both a satire of action films and an homage to them. That's a tricky balancing act, but the movie pulls it off. It has dozens of beautiful women, over the top villains, and comic book violence. It also features an extremely macho hero who spouts lame puns, improbably survives multiple dangerous situations, and leaves a trail of destruction in his wake.

We see and experience the movie through the eyes of a young boy who is an avid movie buff and uses them to escape from the mundaneness of his everyday life. There's a hilarious scene at the beginning where his junior high school English teacher screens an old black and white version of Hamlet, and he fantasizes about what Schwarzenegger would do with the role.

The Last Action Hero not only makes fun of Schwarzenegger movies, it makes fun of Schwarzenegger himself for his greed. (Schwarzenegger plays along gamely.) There's even an inspired scene where the Schwarzenegger action hero meets Schwarzenegger the actor -- and disapproves of him. (It makes sense in the context of the movie.)

I've never seen a movie which so mercilessly picks apart Hollywood cliches. I've also never seen one which so romantically evokes the magic of movie-going.

Watch it, and you'll understand.

It's available on Netflix.


Anonymous said...


Never saw said movie- will consider downloading.

I wanted to ask you something off topic: I take it you swam as a youth and probably in college. I was Div II lane filler- not a nationals qualifier, but enjoyed the social atmosphere. Anyway, I've been trolling the internet to find out what happened to the stars of US swimming from the 70's. A minority of them (probably statistically expected) have made some news: Gary Hall, Sr, lost his medical license for excessive poor surgical outcomes; sprinter Andy Coan has mugshot on internet for DUI recently; worst of all, sprinter now ex-Tennessee swim coach John Trembley fired over sex scandal (propositioning young men on internet) and substance abuse.
Speaking of inappropriate behavior of coaches, there's no shortage of sex abuse cases going back decades (like backstroker now coach Mitch Ivey).
Interested to hear your take on this...


John Craig said...

Brian --
Honestly, I haven't heard that much about most of the stars from the '70's, just tidbits here and there. John Kinsella ended up in the financial business. H started out at Goldman Sachs, but lost that job after a year or so for lying (I'm not surprised, I had met him and he had lied to me in the few very brief exchanges we had). Rick DeMont, as you probably know, was the assistant coach at the U of Arizona for a long time, and recently was promoted to head coach. He's evidently quite popular with his swimmers, and has enjoyed some (I think moderate) success as a painter as well. His teammate and fellow distance freestyler Doug Northway didn't do as well, he spent some time in jail for child molesting (I think it was an 11-year-old girl). Back in the 90's I heard that Mike Stamm was an antiques dealer in San Francisco. Mark Spitz, as you probably know, now refurbishes houses, and I think he got his stockbroker's license too. Mike Bottom is now head coach at the U of Michigan, and well liked by his swimmers. His brother Joe is some sort of supermarket consultant. John Naber seems to have made a career out of having been an Olympic champion. Brian Goodell was working for the California prison system in some capacity at one point, no idea what he's doing now.

I think what happens with a lot of the big stars is that while they're swimming, the sport dominates their lives, and most of them don't really think too hard about what their future career paths will be. The ones who have stayed in swimming as coaches have generally been fairly successful, the others not so much.

It's always interesting to see when some of the eventual outcomes mirror what they did as youths. I was surprised to hear about Hall Sr., he had always given the impression of being squeaky clean and wholesome and hard-working as a young man. But Coan is no surprise. I remember hearing that when he was in college he would show off by driving his car while sitting on the driver's side window ledge (his legs were long enough to reach the gas pedal) while steering with his left hand and resting his right arm on the roof. And John Trembley was one of the first of the Tennessee sprinters to have benefited from Ray Bussard's steroid regimen. I heard from a girl who swam for Trembley when he coached at a prep school (Mercersburg?) that he offered her steroids.

I'd heard about Ivey, but while he deserved to lose his job, I don't put his "crime" in the same category as Northway's. Ivey was 30ish when he was head coach at the U of Florida, and he was fooling around with girls between the ages of 18 and 22. They were under his tutelage, so, as I say, he deserved to lose his job. But it wasn't as if he was an actual child molester. And a lot of this happened in the 70's and 80's, when this type of thing wasn't regarded quite as seriously as it is now. (DUI has followed a similar path in terms of how seriously it's been taken.)

Anonymous said...


I'll check this movie out. You really cannot tell from reviews & box office what's good and what's not. There's so much hype.

I don't give a sh)t what the critics say, I think the first Rocky movie was one of the greatest movies of all time. And I'm bit of a film snob. Orson Welles thought it was a great movie. (And I think Welles really was a genius, no hype there.)


John Craig said...

Coco --
Agreed about popular (and critical) opinion. Look at the all time champ, Avatar. I thought it was sorta cool when it first came out, but certainly not great (other than visual effects), and in retrospect it seems eminently forgettable. Yet it grossed higher than any other movie ever.

I actually thought Rocky Horror was overrated; I know it's a cult favorite, but it never did anything for me. But it is exuberantly middlebrow, which is what Last Action Hero is. (Certainly neither movie is highbrow, like Welles' movies.)

Anonymous said...

No, not Rocky Horror. Rocky the boxing movie with Stallone, made in 1976.

I never saw Rocky Horror.


John Craig said...

Coco --
Oops. How did I manage to see "Rocky Horror" when all you said was Rocky, and "the first one" at that? Sorry about that.

As a boxing purist I was never a huge fan of that movie, either. Particularly after Stallone said to the press that he thought he could go ten rounds with a ranking heavyweight. (He later sparred with Roberto Duran, the then lightweight -- 135 pound -- champ, and at least had the good grace to say afterward that it had been like "being lowered headfirst into a Cuisinart.")

Anonymous said...

I don't care what Stallone said to the press - they'll say anything for attention.

The movie itself I think was great - I thought it did a good job of showing what a total exploitation job boxing is. I prefer not to give details, let's just say that factory town Rusyns know a little about the business. Every bit of that movie was based on something real. Loved it.


John Craig said...

Coco --
Most agree with you.

BTW, I've got it narrowed down. From Wiki:

"they settled primarily in the northeast and north central states, in particular the coal mining region around Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania, and in the Pittsburgh and Erie areas of the western part of that state. Other cities and metropolitan areas that attracted Rusyns were New York City and northeastern New Jersey; southern Connecticut; the Binghamton-Endicott-Johnson City triangle in south central New York; Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; Gary and Whiting, Indiana; Detroit and Flint, Michigan; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. By 1920, nearly 80 percent of all Rusyns lived in only three states: Pennsylvania (54 percent), New York (13 percent), and New Jersey (12 percent)."

I know what you mean though, I live on the internet as well.

Anonymous said...

You've narrowed it down, alright!

Of course, even Rusyns other Americans.

I've downloaded the Unabomber manifesto. Got to say, this man was acutely intelligent. Also crazy as a loon. Pity.

In addition to leftists he had conservatives pegged: they believe in traditional values supposedly, but they also believe in capitalism, which destroys them.


John Craig said...

Coco --
I haven't read the entire manifesto; but as I said earlier, what was most amazing about him is that he was so brilliant indifferent areas. He got his PhD in math, which has nothing to do with the social theories he was propounding.

"Conservatives" come in two main varieties these days: Pat Buchanan-types, who are real conservatives, and MItt Romney/George W. Bush-types, who are mostly whores for corporate interests. Personally, I prefer (and admire) Buchanan.

Jokah Macpherson said...

Just watched Last Action Hero for the first time today based on your recommendation and thoroughly enjoyed it. I can see how it could get a frosty reception, though. It's not really sure who its target audience is. The main point of the movie is a self-aware take on the whole action genre but it's seen through the eyes of a main character who's just a kid. I guarantee most kids that age wouldn't get any of the references and humor, especially one in the pre-Internet/pre-Netflix days.

I liked that it featured Bridgette Wilson (aka Ms. Veronica Vaughn) and the random inclusion of Death from The Seventh Seal was also a nice touch.

John Craig said...

Jokah --
Thank you for watching, glad you enjoyed it.

True, kids today would not get a lot of the references (although I think most kids back in 1993 when it was released would have). But I think the target audience is anyone who's ever seen an action film and thought, "This is a little over the top."

Bridget Wilson was perfect in that role (they seemed to want Daisy Mae from Li'l Abner, to use another reference most kids wouldn't get). And ian McKellen did a great job as Death. I liked all the various cameos as well.