This 1993 action-comedy-fantasy film is directed and produced by John McTiernan and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, Charles Dance, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, F Murray Abraham and Bridgette Wilson.
Young Danny Madigan (O’Brien) lives a very isolated and sheltered life in New York. On the eve of the release of new action film ‘Jack Slater IV’, his friend Nick (Prosky) who runs the cinema-house, invites Danny to a print screening and gives him a “magic” ticket once owned by Harry Houdini.
The film starts, following the villainous assassin Benedict (Dance) and mob boss Tony Vivaldi (Anthony Quinn), as well as tough cop Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger). But when the ticket comes to life, it catapults Danny into the film world alongside Slater, throwing him into the fast, frantic and over-the-top world of action cinema to stop the bad-guys and save California.
But Benedict manages to get hold of Danny’s magic ticket and opens the portal into the real world, with Danny and Slater managing to follow. To rid himself of Slater once and for all, Benedict sets his sights on killing actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s up to Danny to convince Slater to find the real hero within him and stop Benedict before it is too late…
The film that easily divides many Arnold Schwarzenegger fans, this is actually far cleverer than it appears and delves into the self-parodying track of spoofing the action genre and Hollywood in general. Director John McTiernan, back with Arnie after 1987s ‘Predator’, makes sure every scene set within the ‘Jack Slater’ world is loud, vibrant and over-the-top, as it is intended to be. Cars explode after a couple of gun shots, the villains are ruthless and dramatic, the set pieces are elaborate and the genre fitting sterotypes are all there to check. It’s not meant to be taken seriously, except for those living the film themselves.
Schwarzenegger plays the role of Jack Slater very well, personifying his usual blunt action hero in the cinematic world that he takes very seriously, and once in the real world his character becomes more grounded and emotional thanks to his guard being weakened now he is not an indestructible action hero. He knows the role is overly energetic and very clichéd, but that’s why he plays it so well because it’s what he’s best at; witty one-liners, never blinking when shooting a large gun, and performing outrageous stunts and fight sequences and looking like a real bad-ass on fine form.
It’s sadly newcomer Austin O’Brien I find a little irritating. I found him overly enthusiastic and a little corny when I first watched this as a youngster and still feel it now. I don’t know why, but his portrayal is just a little… overzealous. He seems to ham up all of his lines and have a passion that feels un-natural. He works better in the real world, than in the cinematic world as he constantly is the one voice that is always questioning, moaning and criticizing. It works the first time, but every time he keeps doing it, it just gets annoying.
Strong support from the likes of Charles Dance, Tom Noonan and Robert Prosky help the selection of characters really come to life and be more than just cliché. They thankfully build on their character in and out of the cinematic world and make them far more enjoyable to watch than expected. Also making the film fun is the numerous cameos from film alumni such a Tina Turner, Robert Patrick, Sharon Stone, Jean Claude Van Damme and former Mrs Schwarzenegger Maria Shriver.
The action is fast and frantic, very well staged and brilliant executed under the veteran eye of McTiernan who makes sure everything is as big as it can be and includes the staples of real action cinema including cars, helicopters, skyscrapers, shoot-outs and big explosions. The tone between the film world is brilliant when compared to the real world, as it shows just how much audiences can escape in Hollywood-land, and the dark, seedy and dangerous backdrop of New York is a chilling contrast to the bright, attractive and sugar-coated Los Angeles.
This helps try to ground the film to remind us about the power of cinema, and how much we buy into the worlds created by Hollywood and their invincible action heroes, throwing a nice angle at the fact we enjoy other peoples misery (Slater rejects the fact his life has been a fictional creation to amuse others). It’s not exactly philosophical stuff, but it’s an interesting little point to think about as the film plays out towards the end when both worlds collide.
As long as the film is understood to be a mockery of the thing it tries to be, it comes across more enjoyable than if watched to be a serious, straight-forward actioner. There is plenty to look for hidden away to nod-and-wink at the cliché of action films, from the fact none of the characters reload their weapons, they have wardrobes of the same clothes they always seem to wear and items and characters always appear where they are needed without any explanation. It’s the stuff Schwarzenegger has made a career out of, only now we get to poke fun at it, along with him.
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