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‘Last Action Hero’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 18, 1993

If there's one thing going for "Last Action Hero" (not counting Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course), it's the construction of it all. Even if this intermixing of kid fantasy (meet PG-13 hero Austin O'Brien) and adult shoot'em-up, Hollywood insider jokes and cheap Arnold puns, doesn't completely bowl you over, it's clever and intriguing.

At least, mostly. This Other Big Summer Movie, this rival to "Jurassic Park," is not seamless. Structurally, it can be a little haphazard and messy. The humor sometimes hits, sometimes misses. It'll depend on what mood the audience is in. A 7:30 crowd could roll in the aisles over this; but the 9:45 folks might sit through this stunned. It's that kind of movie. But if "Action Hero" has its dead spots, it can also be funny -- very funny. Take Arnold playing Hamlet . . . .

But first, the story. Eleven-year-old Danny (O'Brien) has only one respite from dangerous New York City life and school: To watch his favorite movie hero, Jack Slater. Thanks to friendly, old projectionist Nick (Robert Prosky), he can slip into the theater day or night to watch Slater in celluloid action.

Slater (played by Maria Shriver's muscular Austrian sidekick) is an L. A. cop who chews a mean cigar, walks unharmed through gunfire and always gets his man. Naturally he does this with enormous infrastructural damage, vehicular destruction, stunt heroics and gratuitous loss of life. His screen life is a swaggering, fictional blast. And watching alone in the theater, Danny drinks it all in.

Things get interesting when projectionist Nick gives Danny a magic movie ticket -- given to him years ago by Harry Houdini. The old man, who has never dared use it, finally tears it in half and hands the stub to Danny. Clutching the ticket, Danny finds himself transported into Slater's world. In the midst of a frenetic car chase, Slater is shocked to find an 11-year-old sitting in the back of his car.

First, it's Danny's turn to be in Slater's world. A veteran of Slater's movies, he knows every cliche, every heroic one-liner and all of Slater's history. A hero-and-the-kid story develops, as Danny helps Slater contend with his latest villains (played by Anthony Quinn and Charles Dance). But all hell breaks loose when Benedict (Dance) gets hold of the magic ticket and enters Danny's world. Now, Danny brings Slater into the real world, and the movie hero discovers it really hurts when you punch through glass.

At this point, director John "Die Hard" McTiernan and his team of scriptwriters (a conspiracy of four, collectively responsible for "Lethal Weapon," "The Last Boy Scout" and "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane") have their multidimensional work cut out for them. Whether these convolutions are too involved for summer audiences remains to be seen. But story momentum is often lost. The drama doesn't keep you gripped the way "Terminator II: Judgment Day" did -- or that far superior dimension-fusion fantasy, "Back to the Future."

"Action Hero," with multiple cameos from Sharon Stone, Hammer, Jean-Claude Van Damme and a myriad others, has a quorum of good moments -- and more than enough of Arnold -- to satisfy the crowd. As for those smart-alecky lines, they come at you like frenzied bullets, hoping desperately to connect. Some are better than others. "Could I speak to the drug dealer of the house?" asks Slater sweetly, when villain Dance opens his mansion door. Danny also has an amusing daydream at the beginning, when he pictures Slater as Hamlet in an action-movie version of the play: "Something's rotten in the State of Denmark," says the announcer in the imaginary movie trailer. "And Hamlet is taking out the trash!" Perhaps that was the movie Arnold should have done.

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