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

Jingle All the Way (1996)

jingle_all_the_way_posterOh joy, the time has come for schlocky family comedies to invade the TV screens for the holidays. This one is very much typical for its time, with its formulaic, sitcom style plot, though it’s the kind one can accept at around Christmas time, and nowhere else. It also has the misfortune of being one of those mid-career Schwarzenegger films where he tries to do something other than what he’s best at, with mixed results.

The plot is simple enough. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Howard Langston, a workaholic dad who can’t seem to find any time for his wife and son, who are spending more time with their neighbour Ted Maltin, who consistently denigrates Howard while passing himself off as the “good neighbour”.

In order to make up for well-meaning yet inept parenting, he vows to get his son the hot-selling “Turbo Man” action figure, which is all but sold out. He also winds up in a race with a stressed out postman named Myron Larabee, who wants to get his son the same action figure, but there’s only one left, and they have to fight each other over it.

Of course, the immediate criticism levelled at the film was that the film was made to sell an actual “Turbo Man” toy. Truth be known, the producers were actually planning to do that, but the film was shot so quickly that there wasn’t enough time left for the merchandising, and whatever merchandise was made was limited to a replica of the Turbo Man in the film, and in significantly lower quantities compared to the likes of Space Jam, which had the good fortune of being released in the same year, at around the same time, and outperforming it in the box office (despite being even more of a ridiculous commercialist farce of a film).

In terms of actual substance, the story is only slightly more advanced than a by-the-numbers sitcom episode, but at least we’re free not to have to expose our ears to a laugh track. That said, in terms of family fare, it’s not that bad. I’ve definitely seen worse holiday films (The Santa Clause 3 for instance), and this one at least tries to pass for decent family-oriented entertainment, but it definitely has its flaws, with the main flaw being its less than clever script.

The acting isn’t too bad, but I don’t see Schwarzenegger are a comedic actor. In fact, most of the time he’s funny because the idea of him as a comedic actor is absurd. Phil Hartman, meanwhile, fits perfectly in the film. I would say the same is true with Sinbad, but to a lesser extent. If I’m going to be completely honest, some of the jokes were a bit lazy, and a lot of the humour comes from zany, slightly over-the-top acting from the three main characters, with a bit of support from the minor characters, but it’s not bad.

As far as holiday films go, this isn’t the worst you could pick. There are several worse options you could consider, but sadly this one might be little on the underrated side. If you want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger at least try his luck in a purely comedic role alongside the late Phil Hartman, this might be the film for you. I’d also recommend this for any parents looking to huddle around the TV with their children for a family flick that isn’t completely sterile. In other words, it’s decent, but no more than that.

  • Score: 60%
  • Grade: C

Escape Plan (2013)

EscapeplanfilmposterFor fans of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, this might seem like a dream come true way too late. While it might be nice to finally see them together in an action film, it would have been even better if that happened twenty-five years earlier, especially considering the fact that action films haven’t exactly been the same nowadays. 2013 was a dark year for action films. We were given a horrible Die Hard sequel, a pitifully standard Stallone film, and the market was being oversaturated with sequels and copies of other films. Critics generally weren’t very nice towards the film, but then, they’ve hated action films for a long time, often to the point of blatant bias. Though I wouldn’t say this was a particularly great film, I would say that this is a case of other critics missing the point.

The story isn’t completely original, but at least the writing was better than Stallone’s previous effort at the time (let’s face it, Bullet to the Head was little more than a by-the-numbers action film that rested on the laurels of its star). In fact, I find that the plot of this film provides plenty of elbow room for some effective chemistry between the film’s two lead stars, which is good considering the actually plot isn’t much. Basically, it sees Sylvester Stallone working for a security company, and his job consists of breaking out of prisons in order to test the reliability of their security systems, only to be thrown into what is supposedly “the most secure prison ever built” (clearly one the film’s taglines).

I can’t help but think that the film was mainly written this way because the producers wanted to play it safe with regards to the kind of role Stallone plays. Hence, Stallone enjoys a somewhat privileged role in the film. It would have been far better if Stallone and Schwarzenegger played the role of hardened criminals, because at least then the film’s story would have been more believable. Instead, we get a bunch of unquestionably good protagonists against cliché villains, and the film ends in predictable fashion without tying up all the loose ends. Of course, action films generally aren’t good at storytelling, but at least this film has ways of making up for it. Stallone and Schwarzenegger play their roles with a good mixture of rugged seriousness and good humour, and it works so well that it’s though they haven’t aged a bit. However, I can’t say much about the other characters, especially not the film’s mediocre villains. In fact, Jim Caviezel seems to be pretty bad at playing the sadistic prison warden, and the other characters just seem to be chilling in the background.

I’ll admit that the film itself looks pretty good, but there’s not a lot of colour besides grey, which I guess makes some sense because most of the film is spent in a prison. That being said, however, it would seem less grey if the film didn’t use a cliché orchestral score. As for the action element, there’s not much to say. My guess is that they were trying to make a blend of the action film and the prison film, but it’s more of the latter than the former, but that’s not so bad. If you’re an action film fan, you can always count on the villains getting their comeuppance at the end. All in all, it was pretty disappointing, but it’s not terribly unwatchable, and to be honest, it’s not as bad as it could have been. It’s the kind of film that starts pretty good, but then ebbs after a while. At the very least, it’s worth it just to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger side by side in a decent film.

  • Score: 65%
  • Grade: C