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The Last Action Hero

Year: 1993
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Dance, F Murray Abraham, Anthony Quinn, Tom Noonan, Ian McKellen
Whether it was bad marketing or just bad luck (or, as star Schwarzenegger claimed at the time, the distributors' fault for releasing it on top of Jurassic Park), this Grand Unified Theory of cop movies tanked badly at the box office.

And it did so unfairly. It could have been as bad a movie as everyone assumed it was (in not bothering to see it). But it's a dead-on-target parody of the clichés of the action movie genre that are both fun and biting.

Referential and self-referential gags poke fun at everything from the typical environments to the typical characters and Schwarzenegger isn't even afraid of making fun of himself.

The jabs are varied and many. Some are fast and subtle; from the video store clerk who's much too good looking to be working in a video store to the ubiquitous 555 phone prefix. And some are overt but just as effective; the villain Benedict (Dance) killing an innocent stranger in a city where nobody cares and hero Slater (Schwarzenegger) receiving a fatal gunshot wound in real life that becomes a mere flesh wound when he re-enters movieland.

The premise is basic but well executed. Film fan Danny Madigan escapes the drudgery of his life by going to the movies - particularly those of his favourite action hero, Jack Slater. Friends with local theatre owner Nick, he's often let in to see new prints before anyone else, and all by himself.

One day Frank gives him a ticket he claims is magical, and partway through the new Jack Slater movie, Danny finds himself transported into the world of the movie alongside his hero, where he subsequently lives every cop movie fixture he knows so well, from the eternally enraged police chief (to the point where steam constantly pours from his ears) to cameos from across Hollywood and the heroic death of the cop on the verge of retirement.

The trouble is creepy hitman Benedict, who usually works for Anthony Quinn's mob boss, realises that if Madigan can get into the movie, anyone with the ticket can get out. He figures that to enter the real world and kill the actor playing Slater (the real Schwarzenegger), he'll be unopposed in his schemes for power and riches.

Guided by Madigan in a strange world he's never inhabited before, Slater comes into the real world to track the renegade Benedict down, with another psycho nemesis (Noonan) hot on his heels as well.

Moment of high comedy - such as when Slater meets Schwarzenegger at a society do with the latter's wife Maria Shriver - give it a fun edge hard to achieve in satire, and wrapped up in an action movie aesthetic, the whole thing is perfectly effective in what it set out to achieve. I hardly remember the marketing of it, except that it looked to be just another action movie with a comic tinge. If it'd been presented as the sharp satire it was, it might have found a much bigger audience.

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