Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Last Action Hero.”
The Movie: “Last Action Hero”
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney
Director: John McTiernan
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) With the help of a magic ticket, a young movie fan is transported into the fictional world of his favorite action movie character.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 36 percent
Froemming: Last week, we ventured down the path of M. Night Shyamalan with “The Happening,” a movie that had a twist all right: Tricking us into watching a piece of (REDACTED) like that.
This week, I wanted to venture into the world of Schwarzenegger once again, and the film which he has called the beginning of the end of his film career. A movie that is so meta, I had to check to make sure it wasn’t an elaborate episode of “Community.”
We watched “Last Action Hero,” a movie where a child hangs out at a creepy movie theater with a creepy old man who has taken a shine to him, gives him a magical ticket he got from Harry Houdini — a man famous for his hatred of the supernatural — and the child is thrown into a terrible action movie that I wished was real because it would have been perfect for THE JOE-DOWN!
Brown, as I jump off this building with a dead man filled with nerve gas on my shoulders, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?
Brown: Like you, I didn’t know if this was a “Community” ruse. Like, “Naked Gun” with the lovechild of Dan Harmon and Michael Bay.
I had never seen this movie prior to our viewing for the JOE-DOWN. In fact, there were a few times where I was confused why we hadn’t seen Jamie Lee Curtis in this movie until I realized that was “True Lies,” another Schwarzenegger movie I haven’t watched. Yeah, I’m kind of an idiot.
Schwarzenegger himself wasn’t a fan of this movie, saying that it made him contemplate quitting Hollywood. That would happen about 10 years later when he was elected the Governator of California. I know what I just typed and I hate myself for it.
My question: Why does this movie get lambasted while “Scream” gets praised for doing the meta genre thing?
Froemming: Well, “Scream” and even “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” just pulled it off better I think.
Brown: Fair enough. Just putting that idea out into the ether.
Froemming: I actually love the premise of this movie. I think Arnold did a fine job as Jack Slater.
The problem was having a child actor complain and point out everything is a movie in such a grating way that he makes Poochie seem like a better character.
Brown: Well, we’ll get to all that. While I contemplate a world where Sylvester Stallone was The Terminator, why don’t you get us started?
Froemming: It is the early 1990s, New York City.
Brown: Right here, I want to mention that this movie’s version of 1990s New York City is like that of “Escape From New York.” I’m shocked we didn’t see a barrel fire anywhere.
Froemming: Hey man, Rudy Giuliani didn’t really get that city cleaned up until the later half of the decade.
Danny Madigan, our child protagonist, hangs out in a movie theater watching “Jack Slater” movies while Nick the projectionist snoozes. Why isn’t Danny in school? Because he just skips out all the time, meaning he will probably be in 9th grade until his late 20s.
Old Nick has a surprise for Danny, rewarding this horrible behavior by offering him an early screening of “Jack Slater IV,” a movie title so lazy I imagine it was written by a 27-year-old still in 9th grade. In the middle of the night. What I am getting at is there is a certain “Bicycle Man” vibe coming from this creep.
Well, after his mother leaves for work (?) in the middle of the night, Danny tries to sneak out, but is robbed by a meth head who is angry this place in a poor neighborhood doesn’t have any cool stuff.
Brown: It reminded me of Steve Buscemi’s character in “Broad City” when he tries to rob Abbi before finding out how little money she has in her bank account and chastises her for it.
Froemming: After talking with the police, who just lets this child walk home in New York City — again, in the middle of the night — Danny decides to hit the theater to watch the latest Jack Slater flick.
Danny is a horrible child who doesn’t listen to his mother and thumbs his nose at the rules, and not in a cool, fun way. I don’t know if people have noticed, but I hated this character.
Brown: Danny is the living embodiment of the Bart Simpson joke that TV ruined his imagination.
It’s to the point where he skips school to watch Jack Slater movies several times in the theaters, which a couple times, I get. But, I think he says six times? Movies are expensive to go to, bro, and you live in squalor.
Even Laurence Olivier feels the wrath of Jack Slater when Danny daydreams of an action movie version of “Hamlet.”
Well, it’s better than being remembered as the guy who did a tasteful blackface, according to Frank Reynolds.
A final aside on this “Hamlet” bit: How much money did the cigar industry pay Schwarzenegger for this movie? Dude smokes at least five cigars throughout this film.
Froemming: It showed the kids how cool smoking is, Brown! He probably made millions from the tobacco companies for that!
So Danny shows up late, and Nick hands him a magic ticket that he got from Houdini, again a man who would debunk people peddling the supernatural, but whatever. He never used the ticket because he didn’t want to be let down if it isn’t real, so if it is never used, it is in a state of Schrödinger’s Ticket, until it is used it is both magical and non-magical at the same time.
Danny has him rip the ticket right in half as he walks into the theater, ignoring this pretty sad story of holding onto hope for old Nick, who I think also lives in that projection booth.
Brown: I’m worried about Nick’s sleep patterns.
Froemming: Why? They are the same as ours. We both work odd hours at night, just like Nick!
Brown: The dude is showing movies that are riddled with loud gunfire and sleeps through it like a baby. In that violent a neighborhood, I’m worried he’ll sleep through a break-in or worse.
Plus, why that dude carries around his Willy Wonka ticket after all these years is beyond me.
Nevertheless, he gives the ticket stub to Daniel, who is neglecting homework and safety so he can watch “Jack Slater IV” before the movie comes out.
Froemming: Do you think “Jack Slater IV” is the “Led Zeppelin IV” of action movies?
Brown: I think it was more of the “Black Sabbath Vol. 4” in that staleness and cocaine-fueled ideas started to take over.
Froemming: Hey man, “Supernaut” is an awesome song!
Brown: Yeah, I don’t feel good about that comparison. I’m grasping for straws there.
As you’d expect, “Jack Slater IV” is full of insanity with a Megadeth soundtrack, some mafioso action for a movie that ends up being very, very racist to Italians and a man named Benedict with a fake bullseye… eye.
Froemming: Hey, Benedict would move on to greener pastures as Tywin Lannister in “Game of Thrones!” Also, this part was written for Alan Rickman, but he wanted more money, which apparently lead Charles Dance to wear a shirt that said “I’m Cheaper Than Alan Rickman.” Sometimes the X-ray feature for Amazon Prime gives me all sorts of fantastic facts.
Brown: I wrote in my notes that this role felt like a discount Hans Gruber!
Thanks to that magic ticket stub, a bunch of dynamite from the movie falls into the theater and explodes. And when Danny opens his eyes, he’s riding in the back of Jack Slater’s convertible.
This is where I rip off “How Did This Get Made” and say that I think the rest of the movie is a “Jacob’s Ladder” scenario where Danny is living out his hero’s journey as Jack Slater’s partner.
Froemming: *sigh* Man, not everything is about Jacob’s Ladder!
Anyway, Danny is now in the movie within a movie, which is starting to feel like some “Inception” type crap. And Jack doesn’t bat an eye endangering a child while he drives the mean streets of LA like he is a driver from St. Cloud, Minn. with no regard for the law. They escape from the gunmen, and this is when things get Harmon-like.
They drive to the LAPD headquarters, where we see Sharon Stone from “Basic Instinct” and the T-100 from “Terminator 2” make cameos, but frankly, “Wayne’s World” did this better.
Danny keeps shouting everything is a movie, which made me want Jack Slater to go Rated-R and just shoot this kid dead.
Yeah, I went there. I have no regrets. This kid sucks.
Brown: He’s not Short Round annoying, but he treads dangerously close. Also, does the LA River exist only for shootouts and drag races?
Brown: Here, we see Jack Slater’s world pretty much revolves around buddy cop movie tropes, to the point where people are being paired up with off-the-wall partners, like a cop and a rabbi or a cop and a cartoon cat voiced by Danny DeVito that slaps a female cop on the ass. I’m getting real sick of watching women in the movies we watch have their #MeToo moments.
Froemming: Whiskers is no Harvey Weinstein, but yes, I am sick of this too.
Brown: How did Disney not sue Columbia Pictures for Whiskers when “Bonkers,” a cartoon about a bobcat cop, began four months prior to the release of this movie?
Froemming: I don’t think they wanted this movie brought up more than they needed to.
My favorite random thing in the whole movie happens here: Jack takes a call from his ex-wife and plays a tape of him just saying “yeah yeah.” Turns out this is a woman he met at a pharmacy that he pays to call him so he can do this. It was…this was just a solid weird thing that I give kudos to the writers for coming up with it. Probably based on something a real person did that was so crazy, they had to use it. Like when “Seinfeld” did the Festivus episode.
Brown: Blown away by what he’s seeing, Danny tries to convince Slater that they are in a movie, to the point where Danny brings Slater to a Blockbuster to show him all the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Only, Arnie doesn’t exist in this universe and Sly Stallone was actually The Terminator.
In this universe, Danny also qualifies as a much more annoying Edward Furlong.
Froemming: I really want us to review movies in this universe!
Brown: Oh my god, yes. Also, who plays Arnie’s role in “Predator?” My pick goes to pre-racist crisis Hulk Hogan.
Froemming: Oddly, JCVD, who originally played The Predator only for them to recast. My evidence? Same as this movie’s: Bull (REDACTED) Mountain.
Brown: There’s more. Daniel points out how all the women in the movie are model attractive, which Slater points out is because they’re in California. I swear that felt like a line Arnie used 10 years later in his bid for governor.
While all the attractive women are nice, if you’re Daniel, isn’t this kind of a hellish world to live in? Explosions everywhere, bad guys bunched up in large vehicles shooting everywhere, collateral damage on par with “Man of Steel” and “Furious 7.” No, thank you.
Froemming: Danny will be fine. The comic relief gets hurt sometimes, sure. Just look at before-you-know-what OJ Simpson.
But the comic relief never gets killed.
Brown: Imagine if this movie came out pre-OJ trial and as an Easter egg, the producers had OJ on the “T-2” cardboard cutout instead of Stallone to acknowledge that OJ was supposed to be the original Terminator but wasn’t picked because he was “too nice” to be taken seriously.
This movie isn’t above Easter eggs because when Slater and Danny go to the house of mobster Vivaldi, the butler that answers the door is Professor Toru Tanaka, who was Subzero in “The Running Man.”
Now, he really is plain zero.
Froemming: In this, he is credited as “Tough Asian Man.” This was only 25 years ago.
Jack plays along with this little snot’s fantasy that his world is one giant joke by knocking on the door asking for drug dealers, and Benedict and Tough Asian Man don’t see the humor here. After a tense moment when Jack wants Benedict to take off his glasses, revealing a weird-ass glass eye that looks like something a lame raver would wear, they move on with their business, but now Benedict is suspicious of Danny knowing a lot of his nefarious plans.
Brown: I will say, Benedict’s dialogue to Slater and Danny did teach me that the plural for rectum is recta. Who says action movies aren’t educational.
From here, Slater and Danny go to Slater’s house where we meet his daughter Whitney, who is played by Bridgette Wilson in her first movie role. I personally think being in this flick gave Wilson all the work she needed to dig into her role of Sonya Blade in “Mortal Kombat,” right down to assaulting a henchmen when Benedict and co. come knocking, trying to find out why Danny knows so much about the death of Slater’s favorite second cousin.
… I hate that I just typed out the reason for “Jack Slater IV.”
Froemming: This will be Danny years from now, talking about Whitney.
Brown: While we’re here, (REDACTED) Jack Slater for cheating his ex-wife out of alimony payments by using counterfeit money. He’s so corrupt he probably had a cup of coffee at Trump’s White House.
Froemming: Well, this is 1990s LAPD….
After the brawl, Benedict escapes and we get a nod to “E.T.” as Danny flies his bike off of roofs. But Benedict now has the ticket that allowed Danny to enter this world. He doesn’t use it right away, which is confusing, but he has it.
And Danny, because of his reckless ways, has given this madman more power than a fictional person should ever have. I hate Danny, and his non-stop yelling about how everything is a movie. WE KNOW IT IS A MOVIE, DANNY! SHUT THE (REDACTED) UP!
Brown: With the ticket stub, Benedict finds out it has some sort of power, since when he puts his hand up, he gets a strange blue hue like he’s going through the Quickening from “Highlander” or something.
But there’s a more pressing matter to attend to as Slater pieces together a plot by Vivaldi to kill the rival mob via nerve gas stuffed into a dead, flatulent man. As he arrives at the hotel where the funeral is being held on the rooftop (people, when I die, just put me in the trash), Slater is double-crossed by his old friend Practice. Danny thwarts this, only for himself to get thwarted by Vivaldi, whose plan is then thwarted by Whiskers, the talking (REDACTED) cartoon cat voiced by Danny DeVito.
This movie is stupid. Enjoyable, but stupid.
Froemming: Hey, it could have been MC Skat Kat!
Brown: Benedict starts the bomb detonator by pulling the dead mobster’s finger (because his nickname is The Fart, get it?!?!). But Slater, with the help of Danny somehow figuring out how to operate a crane, neutralizes the threat.
How does Slater do this?
First, he steals The Fart’s body and by sheer luck gets the body hooked to the crane. All the while, he’s weaving through bullets fired by seemingly every Italian in Los Angeles. Because according to this movie, if you’re Italian, you’re a mobster and pack heat all day, every day.
Then, unable to free The Fart by kicking him off the hook, Slater unhooks The Fart, leaving he and Slater to fall into LA’s famed La Brea Tar Pits. Of course, a quick towel dab cleans off Slater. I don’t know if being in the tar pits would kill you, but as this Los Angeles Times article suggests, it’s not a good time for even a professional diver.
Froemming: Also, the nerve gas creates a big, tar bubble, which was pretty stupid.
Now this is when Benedict decides the time is right to do his own thing. He shoots Vivaldi in his pool once he learns the funeral thing didn’t go as planned. So he escapes into the real world, well, Danny’s real world since that is a movie too.
And Jack and Danny follow him. And then the reality of the situation hits Jack Slater: His hand hurts smashing out a parked car’s window. He plays chicken with Tough Asian Man, only for them to crash into one another, leaving TAM a bloody mess while Jack is probably concussed. This new world for Jack is quite the change.
Brown: All of this could have been prevented had Vivaldi not hired a mercenary named Benedict. I mean, it’s pretty simple.
Knowing that Benedict can phase in and out of universes, Danny looks for advice from Nick, who is stunned to see that Slater is now in the real world. Nick rags on politicians, which is kind of a weird-but-funny scene knowing that Arnie became the governor of the USA’s biggest (REDACTED) state.
Froemming: When was he governor of Alaska?
Benedict leaves one important clue behind: A newspaper that shows Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name crossed off. He’s going to kill the actor so Jack Slater never exists.
… Something as complicated as time travel and parallel universes should not be explored in something so simple as a Schwartenegger action movie. Alas, we’re here.
Froemming: That was what the “Terminator” films were all about.
Brown: One important detail the movie didn’t quite deal with: Jack Slater is pretty much Schwarzenegger. The dude was the biggest movie star in the early 1990s. How is Slater not getting absolutely mobbed by autograph seekers in the streets of New York City?
Froemming: New Yorkers might just mind their own business. But yeah, peak Arnold should have had people at least gawking at him.
So Danny brings Jack to his apartment, where his mother has been scared sick about her missing son for hours. Proving once again Danny is awful.
And she doesn’t even recognize Arnold! I mean, I get she is busy and all, but this is her kid’s hero. He is on billboards. He even introduces himself as Arnold Swazberger or however he mispronounces his own name.
Brown: It sounded like a beer. I think it was Arnold Skittlebrau.
Froemming: Such a product does not exist, sir.
Then the next morning, she is all “Jack is great!” Even the script is confused by this movie. She thinks he is a cop from LA. Just hanging around her son. Like that creepy Nick fella. I don’t have children, but this should be a red flag I’d imagine.
Meanwhile, Benedict realizes in this world, the bad guys can win. How do we know? He shoots a mechanic and yells it really loud, only for a New Yorker to tell him to pipe down with all the yelling.
Now Benedict is recruiting characters from other films. We see his paper with them, like Dracula and whatnot. Who does he get? The Ripper from “Jack Slater III,” played by Tom Noonan, who played Francis in “Manhunter.” Except here he looks like he did all the cocaine and meth. Dude stands out like a sore ….well, like a meth sore.
Brown: He… doesn’t look great. The Ripper was the patient zero of meth heads before that became a common phrase. And like “Jack Slater III,” The Ripper meets his end, only this time it’s by electrical shock. Using that same electrical wire, Slater rappels down the side of a building to rescue Danny. Never mind that electricity doesn’t start and stop at your Slater’s convenience…
When they get back atop the building, Benedict does the villain thing and explains his plan. The bad guys win in this world, so what’s to stop him from summoning King Kong? Or maybe he can conjure up Dracula and they can have a birthday with Rosemary’s baby? Or he can bring out Adolph Hitler.
Wait… you’re lumping in Hitler with fictional characters like King Kong and Dracula?!
Holy (REDACTED) Froemming, I think Benedict is a Holocaust denier.
Froemming: I’m still waiting on FOX News to claim Hitler was made up by the liberal media.
So this all takes place at the premier for “Jack Slater IV,” and we have Arnold meet Jack and Jack tells him he is the one who brought all this misery upon him, which is true. Should have kicked him in the junk.
Slater takes out Benedict by shooting him with an arrow while he is taking a crap…wait, no, that is “Game of Thrones.” Jack shoots out his glass eye, which was an explosive. This causes the magic ticket to fall to the ground, allowing Death from Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” to wander the streets of New York, killing people.
Who plays Death here? Sir Ian McKellen, in probably a low point in his career. Not as low as “X:3,” because that is one of the worst movies I have ever seen and everyone involved should feel bad about that movie. But a low point anyway.
Brown: Yeah, in a movie that features cameos from Sharon Stone, Tom Noonan, Jean-Claude Van Damme and MC Hammer, Sir Ian McKellen is the most out of left field. Also, how the hell does Death know about the golden ticket? I know “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was a big movie but in this context, and considering he’s in “The Seventh Seal,” Death should have no (REDACTED) clue about Danny and Slater’s predicament.
This is a Schwarzenegger movie that I’m trying to add common sense to. Shame on me.
With Slater bleeding out in the real world, Danny manages to get Slater back into the … Slaterverse, where a bullet to the (REDACTED) chest is a mere flesh wound.
Froemming: With Slater now in his universe, he vows to appreciate the difference between this world and the other one. Unless it is not in the script, this is a movie after all, these characters are controlled by the writers, but whatever.
Brown, let’s dangerously drive our cars down to recommendations!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: It has its moments, and I like the idea of it, but it is not pulled off here very well. I say you can skip this one.
Brown: Sure. Again, it’s stupid, like “The Happening.” But it’s an enjoyable stupid. Shut your brain off and you’ll enjoy it.