Last Action Hero (1993)

lastactionheroI’m not surprised that Last Action Hero was maligned by critics back in its day, and is still generally ignored by the public at large today. It was a ludicrously ridiculous action flick in a time when action films were just starting to go out of vogue. Of course, I’m certain this was intended as a satire of Hollywood action films (particularly the ones set in L.A.), and in that spirit it’s certainly more well-produced than a similar film named Loaded Weapon 1 (a cheesy National Lampoon parody of Lethal Weapon). It wasn’t a bad film, but perhaps it was a bit too silly for your average moviegoer.

A big problem is the ridiculousness that is the film’s main premise. A movie-obsessed young boy is given a magic ticket, and he’s somehow transported into the latest entry in the “Jack Slater” series, where he gets to see the world of a badass action hero, and Jack realises that he is just a film character. For me, the film could have been more satirical if the whole film played out like an action film that didn’t always take itself seriously, as opposed to the whole “magic ticket” approach. As it stands however, it’s essentially a matinee film with a goofy plot and wasted potential.

To be fair there’s plenty of humorous moments where the film essentially deconstructs its own genre, but that’s hampered by an often hackneyed script that, sadly, tends to rub off on the characters. Arnold Schwarzenegger still managed to play the lead role effectively, but mainly in his capacity as an action film star. The other characters seem to wilt in the background for the most part, if that is they aren’t hamming their way out of it. One silver lining I can count on is the skilful performance of Charles Dance in the role of the lead villain. A lot of times he unapologetically steals the show, even though he’s not immune to the iniquities of the film’s numerous script problems.

The way I see it, the problem with a setting that gives the characters licence to act like they’re in a Hollywood movie is that they always take it too far. To take this film for what it is requires not so much a suspension of disbelief, but a complete silence of disbelief, but that’s not to say it’s a bad film. There are many enjoyable fantasy films that constantly skirt the issue of suspension of disbelief, often to the point that they risk butchering it, but we still enjoy them. Besides, I kind of like the film’s obvious ridiculousness, which sometimes has a weird comic charm, but I think that comes from the fact that I’m familiar with it (having seen it roughly four times to date).

It also helps that the film had some good production values on its side, but I think they used way too much special effects, which lead to the film having a bloated budget so big that the seemingly plentiful box office returns could be considered a disappoint (a film needs to make more than double its budget to turn a profit, and Last Action Hero costed $85 million to produce).

In terms of ridiculous matinee fair, Last Action Hero isn’t actually as bad as people say it is. I’d say it’s mediocre, but with more than a few good moments. The problem, however, is that the producers wasted a lot of the potential that might have been capitalised on to great effect, and the end result can’t be anything better than a mildly humorous parody film with a choppy script.

  • Score: 60%
  • Grade: C

Little Buddha (1993)

littlebuddhaLittle Buddha seems like the kind of film that was meant to capitalise on America’s infatuation with East Asian culture, particularly Buddhism, which I suspect was becoming insanely trendy for liberals during the 1990’s. That aside, the film itself seems to have been intended as an epic spiritual journey, and though I think it’s more for believers than any other demographic, I still find myself fascinated and somewhat enthralled by the film’s lofty vision.

The story is essentially split into two story arcs that eventually come together. One is the story of a group of monks travelling in search of a little boy from Seattle who they believe to be the reincarnation of a great Buddhist teacher named Lama Dorje, and the other is a rather religious retelling of the story of Siddhartha Guatama Buddha, and his quest for enlightenment.

The story sort of comes across as a naive parable of spirituality, or more or less the kind Hollywood liberals liked to dabble in back in the day. I found the idea that of a little boy being the reincarnation of a Buddhist Lama to be rather ridiculous, and serving only the purpose of making an American (let alone from Seattle of all places) the centre of the plot, and it really seems to make this film a relic of a rather silly point in history. By contrast, the re-enactment of the story of the Buddha may well have been the best part of the movie, mainly because it was told in a very compelling way, and trust me, you don’t have to be religious in order to appreciate the way they’ve faithfully recreated the story of Buddha.

The acting throughout the film is quite good, and is best in the scenes with the Buddha. Keanu Reeves is a surprisingly good fit for the role. Aside from looking the part, he delivers a stand-out performance that, believe it or not, suits the role quite well, and it’s definitely a big leap from Bill and Ted. All the characters performed well in this film, even Alex Wiesendanger, the young boy who’s supposed to be the lead character, back when such starry-eyed child characters were still universally endearing (nowadays, they’re often more annoying, especially in family films).

The film also sported very good production values for the time, and took a rather interesting approach in terms of direction. Most of the scenes set in America are deliberately given a sober blue-grey lighting, while most of the scenes set in Asia (including the story of Buddha and the flight to Bhutan) are given a lush red-orange colour scheme. I think this is intended to present two different worlds in two different lights, though I think it indicates a bit of a bias in favour of Eastern spirituality. I don’t particularly mind though, because I think it gave the film a unique visual identity.

Overall, with nice characters, an unbelievable yet consistently interesting premise, and a compelling narrative and atmosphere, this, in my opinion, is a very underrated film, and it’s certainly one of those films where seeing is believing.

  • Score: 75%
  • Grade: B