Tag Archives: arnold schwarzenegger

Last Action Hero

Last Action Hero
lah1

Today, I’m going to take a look at a deconstructionist action comedy classic: Last Action Hero.

The plot of Last Action Hero is summarized on IMDb as follows:

With the help of a magic ticket, a young film fan is transported into the fictional world of his favorite action film character.

Last Action Hero has four officially credited writers, though it is widely known that others also contributed to the screenplay. One of these uncredited writers was the late Carrie Fisher, who frequently did script doctoring in the 1980s and 1990s. The four writers who are officially associated with the film are Shane Black (The Nice Guys, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, Monster Squad), David Arnott (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane), Adam Leff (PCU, Bio-Dome), and Zak Penn (The Avengers, The Incredible Hulk, Elektra, X-Men: The Last Stand, Suspect Zero).

The director for Last Action Hero was John McTiernan, a highly-regarded action film director who has been responsible for movies like Die Hard, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Predator, The 13th Warrior, and The Hunt For Red October.

The astounding cast of Last Action Hero includes Arnold Schwarzenegger (Jingle All The Way, Total Recall, The Running Man, Terminator), Charles Dance (Space Truckers, Game of Thrones), Tom Noonan (Anomalisa, The Astronaut’s Wife, RoboCop 2, Wolfen), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus, Grand Budapest Hotel, Surviving The Game), Ian McKellen (X-Men, The Keep, Lord of the Rings), and Austin O’Brien (Lawnmower Man, Lawnmower Man 2).

lah3The cinematographer for the film was Dean Semler, whose other shooting credits include Super Mario Bros, Dances With Wolves, Cocktail, The Road Warrior, Razorback, Waterworld, Young Guns, Bruce Almighty, Stealth, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, among many others.

Last Action Hero had two primary editors: John Wright (The Incredible Hulk, The Passion of the Christ, The 13th Warrior, Speed, The Running Man) and Richard A. Harris (Titanic, The Golden Child, Fletch, True Lies, The Bad News Bears).

The musical score for the movie was composed by Michael Kamen, who has had a ton of credits over his career: The Iron Giant, X-Men, Event Horizon, Hudson Hawk, Road House, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Highlander, Action Jackson, and Brazil among them.

One of the most memorable gags in the movie occurs in the fictitious movie universe within the movie, in which Schwarzenegger doesn’t exist. In an attempt to prove that their reality is false, Slater is led into a video store by Danny, who shows him a standee of Terminator 2, only to see Sylvester Stallone listed as the star instead of Schwarzenegger. This is a sort of nod to the similarities between the two actors’ movies in the 1980s and 1990s, which were, at times, indistinguishable.

lah5On November 5, 2013, the online outlet A.V. Club ran a feature imploring people to give Last Action Hero a re-watch and re-evaluation. While there are plenty who still speak ill of the movie, the reception to it has certainly warmed over the years.

Rumor has it that Alan Rickman turned down the role in Last Action Hero ultimately filled by Charles Dance, despite the fact that the role was written with him in mind, due to the pay not being high enough. Initially, Timothy Dalton was cast to fill in, but ultimately had to drop out before filming, leaving the path open for Dance. Apparently, Dance had a tongue-in-cheek t-shirt made that read “I’m Cheaper Than Alan Rickman” as a result.

The AC/DC song “Big Gun” was written and produced specifically for Last Action Hero, much like their earlier song “Who Made Who” was done for the infamous Stephen King movie, Maximum Overdrive.

At one point, Steven Spielberg was approached to helm Last Action Hero, but turned it down in order to pursue making Schindler’s List.

In the last act of Last Action Hero, Ian McKellen surprisingly portrays the character of Death from the classic film The Seventh Seal, which was originally played by Bengt Ekerot.

One of the more clever references in the film pokes fun at F. Murray Abraham’s award-winning role as Salieri in Amadeus, and his subsequent type-casting as a movie villain. When he first appears on screen, Danny tells Slater not to trust him, explaining that “he killed Mozart!”

Last Action Hero was made on a production budget of $85 million, on which it grossed just over $187 million in its international lifetime theatrical run. While this was ultimately profitable, it was far below the lofty expectations placed upon it.

Last Action Hero currently holds an IMDb user rating of 6.2/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 46% from audiences and 37% from critics. While these scores are certainly low, the movie has been winning over a steady cult following in the years since its release.

Personally, I really like Last Action Hero, and not just because of its clever, genre-aware screenplay. Schwarzenegger is genuinely charming in the movie, and might be in the top form of his career comedically. Likewise, Charles Dance is absolutely haunting as the film’s villain, but also manages to be quite funny at times.

lah2

One of the most lauded aspects of the movie, at least nowadays, is its screenplay’s expert execution of genre deconstruction, long before that style came into fashion with films like Scream or Cabin In The Woods.  More importantly, the screenplay for Last Action Hero shows a lot of respect for its audience: it gives us the benefit of the doubt that we have seen action movies before, and uses that prior knowledge to either play into or subvert our expectations.

Another thing that I particularly enjoy about Last Action Hero is its general design. There are lots of small details that distinctly contrast reality from the world of the movies: for instance, the color and lighting vary greatly between the two settings. The movie world is always evenly lit and sunny, filled with bright yellows and oranges. Reality, on the other hand, is almost always shown at night, with long shadows stretching down alleyways. The only lights and colors come from neon signs on the streets. This provides an instant rubric for where any given action is taking place, without having to constantly establish whether characters are inside or outside of the fantasy world. For a movie with this level of depth, that kind of detail really matters: it keeps the audience subconsciously on track with the changing settings.

Overall, I think that Last Action Hero is a brilliant action-comedy, particularly for anyone who enjoys the action genre movies that dominated the 1980s. It manages to build an interesting story around the fantastical fun of walking through a movie world, and the humor generally works. The cast is immensely deep, and the knowing cameos and nods to other genre pictures make for a damn fun time. For bad movie fans, action movie fans, and pretty much anyone who enjoys a little bit of 1980s/1990s nostalgia, I highly recommend giving Last Action Hero a shot, or giving it a second look.

lah4

Advertisements

Hercules in New York

Hercules in New York

hercules6

Today’s feature is a low-budget 1969 comedy by the name of “Hercules in New York”: a film most famous for featuring the first on-screen role for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Hercules in New York” was the last film written by Aubrey Wisberg, whose career featured included 1950s and 1960s science fiction films, as well as a handful or propaganda productions during World War II. Unsurprisingly, this film definitely seems misplaced in time. Even for 1969, the story and comedic style feels significantly dated. For contrast, “Hercules in New York” also saw the first directing job for Arthur Allan Seidelman, who has now had a significant career directing television movies and series. The mix of a wet-behind-the-ears director and an outdated, behind-the-times writer proved to be a bit of a perfect storm of awfulness for “Hercules in New York.”

hercules3Adding to the mix of inexperience and incompetence on the “Hercules in New York” crew was a cinematographer with no previous credits, and a musical composer with no listed credits before or since the movie. It honestly feels like the entire crew was pulled out of a hat, which I’m sure was done in an effort to keep the costs far below the radar.

The story of “Hercules in New York” follows the angsty demigod as he decides to explore the modern world, to the intense displeasure of his father, Zeus. He quickly becomes unwittingly involved in mafioso-run sports gambling in New York City, and manages to make headlines for his feats of strength. Enraged with his meddling, Zeus decides to punish Hercules, which leads to further shenanigans in the mortal world.

Worried about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unwieldy last name, the producers on “Hercules in New York” decided to credit him as “Arnold Strong, ‘Mr. Universe.'” The name “Arnold Strong” was chosen as a sort of gag, playing off of his co-star’s name “Arnold Stang.” Mr. Universe was used, of course, because that was the title that Arnold was most known for at the time, as he won the famous bodybuilding competition at the age of 20 (just 2 years prior to “Hercules in New York”). His next film role wouldn’t be for another 4 years, when he essentially played an extra in the fantastic Robert Altman movie, “The Long Goodbye.”

hercules4One of the most infamous and memorable aspects of “Hercules in New York is the dubbing that was done early versions of the feature. Because of Arnold’s thick accent, it was decided that his lines should be dubbed over, which makes for entertaining watching in retrospect. Even in the versions with Arnold’s audio track re-inserted, you can hear the dubbed voice during a closing sequence where Hercules speaks through a radio to Arnold Stang’s character. It is honestly a toss-up as to which audio track is more entertaining: Arnold’s natural voice with the worst acting performance of his career, or the bizarre voice-over that doesn’t fit Arnold’s body in the slightest.

Some years ago, the rights for “Hercules in New York” were auctioned off on e-bay, accruing bids for just over half a million dollars by the auction’s end. Given poor reception and general infamy of the flick, it is possible that the winner significantly overpaid for the product. The movie currently holds a well-deserved 17% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with a 29% audience score.

The character of Hercules has a long cinematic tradition: he has featured in big budget flicks, animated movies, cheap Italian films, and epic television series. Apart from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the character has been portrayed over the years by notables such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Lou Ferrigno, Kevin Sorbo, Ryan Gosling, Sergio Ciani, and Kirk Morris, among many, many others.

I haven’t been able to find budget information for “Hercules in New York,” but you have to assume that this was an incredibly cheap production just judging from the film quality. It is hard to say if it made any money, just because there isn’t exactly a wealth of information out there about it. The rights to the film have changed hands a few times over the years, and it is currently distributed by Trimark. However, I doubt that it makes any significant money on home video sales.

hercules2Strangely, I actually think that there is some promise in the concept for “Hercules in New York.” The Greek gods are constantly meddling in the mortal world in mythology, so why not have a fish out of water tale where a god comes down to do it again in the modern world? Of course, this film does just about everything wrong, but I think that this could have been a serviceable enough film in more capable hands at every level. Essentially, this is not a film that was damned from conception.

The biggest issue for “Hercules in New York” is its use of outdated (even for 1969) humor. The jokes are all incredibly weak and infantile, and a lot of the humor seems like it is supposed to come from Arnold Stang’s character, whose comic relief style was suited better for the comedy world prior to the JFK assassination. All of the comic portrayals in the film are overly-expressive, frenetic, and basically cartoonish: a style that can go wrong all too easily, and certainly does so here.

One other serious problem with “Hercules in New York” is that the hero, Hercules, is an absolute asshat throughout the movie. A few characters acknowledge this fact, but inexplicably forgive him and begin to like him for reasons that are never made clear on screen (which is a whole different issue with the writing in the film). The audience is clearly supposed to sympathize with the demigod, but I couldn’t help but identify with the put-out and exasperated Zeus, who has clearly had it with Hercules’s constant shit.

I would be remiss to not mention the amazingly awful Central Park bear fight in this film. The sequence almost rivals the bear fight from the Lou Ferrigno’s “Hercules” film, though I shockingly think that that one (a scene where a bear is thrown into space, mind you) is more believable that Arnold’s bear wrestling in this flick. Take a look for yourself:

At one point in the film, Mercury decides to intervene in the plot to help Hercules out of a bind. He does this by bafflingly summoning Samson and Atlas out of absolutely nowhere, exactly where they need to be to help Hercules. This might have been an interesting side plot (Mercury defying Zeus to help Hercules) if it had been developed earlier, but as it exists in the film, it feels like an improvised element used to patch a plot hole. It comes completely unprecedented and out of left field, and winds up being just another example of the mass ineptitude behind this movie.

All of the acting is this movie is honestly beyond awful. From the leads to the accessory players to the extras: not one person turns in a decent performance. At that point, you have to assume that the problem is not with the actors, but with the direction and the script: because honestly, what are the odds that you cast an entire production’s worth of duds? This isn’t “The Producers” as far as I know.

“Hercules in New York” is clearly trying to be a fish out of water comedy, but a good deal of it doesn’t make sense. Hercules should be treated as a man out of his own time, not like a creature from another planet. Is the audience supposed to believe that the Greek gods do not understand tact or basic social graces? Sure they live remotely, but they do have a sort of society on Olympus. There is the potential for this movie to be entertaining, but the writing never quite takes it in the right direction (at least not for long).

hercules1Overall, I think “Hercules in New York” sits right on the boundary between being an entertainingly awful movie and a dull, nearly-unwatchable one. If you ask me, it does land on the right side of that line, but only barely.  I can recommend this for bad movie lovers for the sake of a few select highlights, and because of just how awful Arnold is in this early role. However, it is a pretty weak recommendation: there are definitely more worthwhile bad movies to spend your time on.