Continued from this shit right here
After watching a Sunday afternoon matinee of Hook in 70mm at the Aero, I took a dinner break, then returned to that theater for an evening double-feature of Last Action Hero and Cliffhanger (both in 70mm). Both films were released in the summer of 1993, which was a time in my life that I look back on fondly, so now you know why it was important that I attend this screening: that evil motherfucker Nostalgia, trying to throw me for a melancholy loop again (and again and again and again...)
My friend, the petulant Goth-y girl, gave the intro and I guess the guy she traded phone numbers with last night must have called her back finally, because she was in a more cheerful mood this time out. She even did one of those cute girl-squeal/yelps when she accidentally created some feedback on the P.A. system, as she placed the microphone down.
I've already written about Cliffhanger before --
The 70mm print for Last Action Hero was stunningly beautiful (as was Cliffhanger's print). It was awesome; thanks to the movie magic that can only be conjured by watching a film presented in the format of the times, I felt like I was watching this flick on opening night at a theater presenting it in 70mm. Time travel, baby; I was in Santa Monica, but I might as well have been in Westwood or Hollywood circa June 1993, watching it in the best non-IMAX format available, in brand-new SDDS sound. It felt even more real, because the theater was only filled to 20% capacity -- just like it played in theaters back then! The guys at Sony must've taken very good care of this print, either that, or it just never got that much play to begin with. Because it's Last Action Hero.
The presumably non-SDDS sound was turned up to the Kick-Ass level, which is A-OK with me, but apparently not to the fatter-than-me nerd sitting a few rows behind me who yelled out his sarcastic comment on the sound not being loud enough or something. I'm a fat nerd, but it's always awesome to point out those in worse shape in order to make myself feel better for being a hopeless piece-of-shit -- although to be fair, he spoke with, like, 5 or 6 friends before and after the movie, and I showed up by myself and had no friends to speak to (par for the course, in my case), so I'm totally, unequivocally, the bigger loser in this equation. In any equation, really. I don't know why I brought this up. Neither do you.
The movie opens with Alice in Chains' "What the Hell Have I", a fuckin' bad jam from a soundtrack full of them. I didn't even see the film until it was on video, yet you bet your sweet ass I made fuckin' sure to buy the soundtrack after listening to it at my cousin's house one afternoon. It's mostly comprised of tunes from 80's metal bands and early 90's alternative (and Cypress Hill, to throw the ethnics a bone); the film's way of sonically bridging the gap between old and new. Come to think of it, there was a lot of gap-bridging back in the early 90's; the badass Judgment Night soundtrack was basically White Boy Music Meets Black Man Music, and then you had guys like Public Enemy hooking up with Anthrax for "Bring the Noise". Yeah, man, the early 90's -- back when it was still cool to have hope in that kind of bullshit.
The film itself is kind of like that too, combining heavy Hollywood silverbacks of the 1980's (from both sides of the camera) with the increasingly meta-saracasto storytelling of the 1990's. You have Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Muthafuckin' Badass Cinematic Action Master Even Though His Better Days Are Behind Him The Man Directed DIE HARD so Don't-Fuck-With-Me-On-This McTiernan hooking up for a second time, both of them riding in on a wave of hits (McT's wave was beginning to ebb after Medicine Man, though). Only this time, they would be entering unknown territory; sure, it's an action film, but it's also very much supposed to be a comedy, and a family film, and a feel-good magical romp, and a satiric look at the cliches and stereotypes imbued in the usual kind of joint that features an Austrian shooting gaping holes into people.
And perhaps that's the problem with this flick -- they didn't know what kind of film they were supposed to make. At least that's what McTiernan has said, in that wonderful state of way-after-the-fact retrospection (of course). He said the studio never made up its mind about what exactly Last Action Hero was supposed to *feel* like and that left McT with no clue whatsoever as to what tone to go with, so he basically ended up shooting a different movie with each scene, which I guess explains why the final product feels like such a fuckin' mess.
What do you blame that shit on, the script? Or the lack of one? Maybe it's both. From what I understand, a couple of dudes sold a script titled Extremely Violent, and in typical Hollywood fashion, the Powers That Be loved it so much, that they hired a battalion of writers to completely change the fuckin' thing until it vaguely resembled the child everyone doted on at the beginning of this caper. Fuckin' Awesome Shane Black got most of the credit, and while there are many funny lines mixed in with the lame ones (Arnold mostly fucks up the latter with his accent), it still didn't help the flick enough. Perhaps they thought that since Last Action Hero didn't know the Good Movie song, maybe they can help fake it by hiring someone like Black or uncredited William Goldman to hum a few bars.
I don't know. Maybe McTiernan figured it would all work out in the end, since from what I understand, he started shooting Die Hard with something like 30 or 40 pages of script, while the rest was written and rewritten as they went along -- and that joint ended up playing like some precision-crafted Swiss clockwork. Many good movies are made that way -- but many bad ones are made that way too. This film, for example.
All I know is that Last Action Hero has a great premise -- movie geek pre-teen Danny Madigan joins his cinematic hero Jack Slater (played by my former governor) on-screen, with the help of a magical movie ticket that creates a portal allowing the Real World to connect with the Movie World -- and teases you for 130 minutes on how awesome this idea is going to be when it plays out. Except it never does, it just teases you, and not even a good kind of teasing, it's a lame kind of teasing, like a chick bragging about the new slut shoes she bought and how sexy she looks in them, yet never wears them in front of you. Don't think I forgot about that shit, Nadia.
So Madigan finds himself getting into adventures with Slater; I found it interesting that the kid is more enamored with the character of Slater, rather than the actor who plays him. He doesn't give a shit about the actor. Speaking of actors, the supporting cast consists of an impressive line-up that would've been more impressive had this movie been made in 1986 -- F. Murray Abraham, Anthony Quinn, Art Carney, Michael V. Gazzo, Robert Prosky, Joan Plowright.
But there's also awesome motherfuckers like Tom Muthafuckin' Noonan as the axe-wielding Ripper, Charles Dance as the one-eyed sharpshooter Benedict, and Frank McRae as the angry, screaming Lieutenant (not to be confused with his performance from that same year's Loaded Weapon 1, where he played the angry, screaming Captain). Mercedes Ruehl plays Madigan's mom, and while she's a respected Oscar-winning/Tony-winning/Obie-winning actor, it still makes the hair on the back of my sweaty blubber neck stand up with the way she says "...so YOU cangotothemovies?"
Also, I think this was Bridgette Wilson-Tennis Pro's first film (playing Slater's daughter), and 13-year-old me was surely grateful for the introduction. I also dug how they did that bullshit overdone DADDY! welcoming shit, where Wilson's squealing and regressing into childhood (like she overdosed on puppies & rainbows) upon the sight of her father -- way too many movie daughters pull that shit on movie fathers, so that was cool that they were making fun of that oft-repeated moment in films. Or at least I hope they were making fun of it, and not partaking in that garbage. Calm down, girl -- all he did was bang your mom.
The main problem I had with this film was with the character of Madigan (the actor behind the role is good and non-annoying for a child actor); here's this kid who doesn't have the greatest life (Dad's dead, Mom's too busy putting food on the table, drug addicted creeps are breaking in to the apartment), and BOOM, now he's in the movie he was watching, partnered up with Jack Slater. Fuckin' awesome, right? Right. So then WHY OH WHY does he spend most of his time trying to convince everyone around him that this is all a movie? What does he fuckin' get out of that, or from weirding Slater out by constantly bringing up the magic ticket and how they're always on the verge of jumping through a movie screen into the real world? I mean, wouldn't you just go with the fuckin' flow and use your movie knowledge to your advantage in this situation?
Shit man, if I ended up with the magic ticket and found myself inside a Jason Statham movie, I'd be all like "OK, Jason -- you go own those motherfuckers, and I'll go bang Amy Smart!" and then we'd give each other one of those manly high-fives before taking off to complete our separate tasks. Or better yet, maybe go into a hot chick movie and hope they're into depressed overweight assholes. Most likely though, I'd jump into Dinner Rush or Big Night.
But I guess whoever was re-writing the pages that day was more interested in that whole Story Is Conflict deal, and wrongheadedly figured Hey, let's make the conflict about this kid trying to get the Action Hero to understand that this entire scenario is fictional. So instead, there's only the occasional hint of the kind of movie it could've been, like whenever Madigan geeks out on something cool Slater's about to do (or just did). But no, mostly it's just him trying to wet-blanket a dream situation that could've been the key to muthafuckin' paradise for a boy who loves movies.
It's frustrating because as big a failure as this film is, it still features glimmers of hope to torture you, like it really wanted to be a good movie but the evil movie god had already damned it to hell, Lamia-style. I mean, the action is still pretty fuckin' sweet -- exaggerated, baroque sequences that are both funny and Pretty Fuckin' Cool (and personally would be even cooler in a movie that takes it all dead serious) -- because this is John McTiernan directing, and he really was in my opinion one of the absolute best action filmmakers in the muthafuckin' world, people. I may not have faith in the human race or a Higher Power, but goddammit I still have faith that McT will come back Born Again Hard.
Watch Die Hard again, watch how he slyly uses the non-action moments as ways to introduce the geography of the location, that way when the shit eventually goes down, you know exactly where you are, where the good guy is, and where the bad guys are coming from. Notice how this bad muthafucka will even occasionally manage to make super badass exciting action sequences employing long, wide takes and minimal cuts (using quick whip-pans instead). Well, he still pulls off that sweet style here, while spicing it up with a freak-flag-flying technique of zooming the fuck into a shot -- regardless of whether that shit is still gonna be in focus or not -- and then cutting to a clear-crisp close-up of the subject in question. Although I did notice that Fuckin' Awesome Dean Semler was the cinematographer, and he used the same technique in The Three Musketeers starring The MaSheen, so maybe that was all him, I don't know.
If Last Action Hero was a 30-minute film comprised of only the action scenes, I'd say it was pretty fuckin' good. But instead we have 100 more minutes of missed opportunities, wasted time on bullshit, and poor excuses for lip service on things that are genuinely awesome. Instead we have a heartbreaking, frustrating-as-fuck failure as a motion picture. I will admit that it does have its amusing moments sprinkled in between long protracted gaps of Lame and the mercilessly few action scenes -- like the Rottweiler pyramid and the alternate Terminator 2: Judgment Day poster. It is not an entirely painful experience.
One of the silly-in-a-cool-way action sequences ends with Slater falling into the La Brea Tar Pits in slow-motion; in the foreground of the frame is an animatronic dinosaur, looming over the presumably Owned-By-Tar main character. It's like they knew, man, it's like the filmmakers fuckin' knew that they were composing the most representative image of what would become of Last Action Hero shortly after its release (a week after Jurassic Park, presumably to give the Spielberg flick one weekend of glory before finally stepping in and stomping its snakeskin boots all over the competition and taking its rightful place on the box office throne), and sure enough, it was like a self-fulfilling prophecy: Last or First, it didn't matter, this Action Hero was just another jabroni who missed his mark and drowned in sticky liquid death -- only in reality, it was red ink -- while the dinosaurs remained standing tall, proud, and very, very, very profitable.
I remember being super-hyped for this movie, and at school, I was more than happy to name this film alongside Jurassic Park, Hot Shots! Part Deux, and yes, Cliffhanger, as my Can't Wait To See 'Em summer movies for 1993 to my friends and teachers (even though they never asked, I told them anyway, stupid little chatterbox that I am). But even at that young age I inhaled as many movie publications as I could, and the reviews were all telling me that Last Action Hero was, like, the absolute worst fucking movie ever made. Word of mouth didn't help either; both a friend and a neighbor had told me how they walked out of it halfway through. Fuck, I thought, I guess I'm not gonna bother with this one, I'll just wait for pan-and-scan VHS. (I was still about 12 months away from saving enough cash for a Laserdisc player.)
When I finally went to rent the movie in January '94, I looked at the box and noticed that instead of using the awesome Struzan-esque poster art from the theatrical release, they used a lame close-up of Arnold Schwarzenegger holding up a gun that he never used in the actual movie, with some stupid nondescript explosion behind him. Man, you can tell Columbia Pictures was done with this fuckin' movie, after it failed to become the biggest movie of the summer, let alone the biggest movie of its opening weekend. Then I took the movie home, saw the fuckin' thing, and got very depressed when it was over. I didn't give it another chance until a couple years later on widescreen Laserdisc, hoping my opinion would change. It didn't.
Yet such is my sad life, that I bought a ticket to see this in 70mm -- and I can say now without any reservation, having seen it in the best possible format of its time, that this movie isn't good or OK. It's just fuckin' sad, that's the best way I can describe.
In addition to the action sequences, this joint also has the slight value of Shits & Giggles because it's very much an early 90's time capsule, not only in some of the song choices, but in the way this flick features cameos from celebrities who were not long for the megastar world -- Chevy Chase pre-talk show, Damon Wayans pre-Blankman, Jean-Claude Van Damme pre-the rest of the world turning into fuckin' snobs, and (M.C.) Hammer pre-banana hammock. This was definitely a fitting movie for them to appear in.
In conclusion, the entire audience tittered during the movie premiere scene, where the real Arnold Schwarzenegger was portrayed as a harmless boob under the over-control of his then-wife, Maria Shriver. Unfortunately, this print was missing the 90-second sequence where Arnold sneaks off to fuck the help -- because it added nothing to the plot, and besides, it's not like you can feature dueling accents grunting and moaning in ecstasy, that shit's too strong for a PG-13 movie.