Some movies and TV shows just fail to find an audience when they initially come out. Some are even ahead of their time in terms of concepts, themes, and storytelling. It’s how movies like “The Princess Bride,” “The Big Lebowski,” or “Community” go onto become cult classics, despite not getting much acclaim when they came out.
I have a soft spot for those movies too. Everyone has at least one movie that they feel strongly about in a way that doesn’t quite match the popular sentiment surrounding it. It’s not always the case that you love a movie that everyone else hates, although that does happen. In some cases, you just have that one movie or show that confounds you with so many mixed feelings.
A part of you loves it on a personal level.
Another part of you hates it for certain flaws you can’t overlook.
Overall, you’re just not sure what to make of it. For me, this perfectly sums up my feelings on “Last Action Hero.”
First off, if you’ve never seen this movie, I recommend that you check it out. It’s a movie that feels very out of place in an era dominated by superhero movies, Pixar movies, and Oscar bait. This movie was a sloppy convergence of trends in the mid to late 90s. It was an era in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the height of his power and every month brought at least one “Die Hard” rip-off.
As a concept, it was still groundbreaking for its time. “Last Action Hero” built a story around a movie-loving kid named Danny getting pulled into a generic, over-the-top Schwarzenegger action flick through the use of a magic movie ticket. Action, comedy, and hi-jinks ensues. It has plenty of objectively great moments that demonstrate why Schwarzenegger movies are so entertaining.
However, at the end of the day, it’s not a great movie.
I say that as someone who watched this movie multiple times in the late 90s. Even then, I understood it had a shady reputation, even among fans of Schwarzenegger. I even remember the jokes some people made about how bad it was. While I don’t think the movie is that bad, it’s still not great. It could’ve been great, but it fell short in critical areas.
Even as a kid, I saw the flaws. For one, it’s too long. The movie suffers from a lot of bloat and side-plots. At times, it drags, especially towards the end. It tries to balance itself out with more action and comedy, but it doesn’t work. If anything, it makes things worse.
In addition to the length, it’s a movie that tries too hard to do too many things. On paper, it has two compelling concepts. One involves a kid actually venturing into an action movie and experiencing what it’s like first-hand. The other involves someone finding out that they’re a fictional character within a fictional world and having an existential crisis about it.
These are both quality concepts that could make for great stories. However, “Last Action Hero” fails at handling both because it tries so hard to blend them together. If it had stuck with just one and pursued it to the utmost, then it would’ve been a very different movie. I also think it would’ve been a better movie. By trying to use one plot to supplement the other, they just end up falling apart in the end.
For its time, it was a bold idea. It went out of its way to parody some of the overplayed clichés that dominated every other action movie at the time, including ones starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think if the movie came out today, it would actually work better. Audiences respond more to that kind of meta-commentary than they did in the 1990s, as the success of “Deadpool” can attest.
Even if it did come out today or just five years ago, I still think it would fail to find an audience. It’s just too messy and disorganized. It has everything else going for it, from the plot to the acting to the concept to the effects. It just doesn’t blend together.
That’s a shame because it’s still a fun movie. I often find myself watching the first half-hour and enjoying it. Right around the halfway point, though, I usually turn it off because that’s when it starts to drag.
Ultimately, “Last Action Hero” is one of those movies that could’ve been something really special. It still has the feel of a cult classic. It has aged somewhat better than many other action movies of the era. It was almost a great movie. It could’ve been a great movie. It just didn’t pan out.
It still has a special place in my heart and it always will. For that, it’s good enough in my book.