Teaming up the director of Die Hard and the writer of Lethal Weapon seems like a match made in action movie heaven. Throw in Arnold Schwartzenegger and you ought to have one of the greatest action films ever. So how do you got about mangling such a great group of talent? You make the film for kids, go for the obvious jokes and fail to recognize the compelling potential of the film.
Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) is a young movie buff who often skips classes to watch one of his current favorites: Jack Slater III. The film’s star, Jack Slater (Arnold Schwartzenegger), is one of Danny’s heroes and a modern icon. So when the old projectionist offers him a chance to review the reel a full day before the sequel, Jack Slater IV, comes out Danny jumps at the chance. But he gets more excitement than he expected when a magical movie stub transports him into the movie.
Yes, the idea is contrived and silly, but the idea of a regular person being thrown into an action film ought to be a hilarious satire. The film desperately tries to be funny as the kid is constantly attempting to prove to Jack that this is all a movie with the excessive amount of ridiculous coincidences and hot women. But it’s not that funny for a very simple reason: the entire film is designed as a movie for kids.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of solid films for kids but action films for kids can almost unequivocally be said to be utterly stupid and moronic. The humor of the film is geared for kids and often reaches to the lowest common denominator. You get all these moments that could be funny but then the film constantly cuts back to the kid so he can commentate on how this is all a ridiculous action film. The entire middle climax of the film revolves around a recurring fart joke that only a child could find funny. Yet the film is rated a solid PG-13 and for good reason. There’s plenty of foul swearing, sexed up women and graphic violence. But even more than that, half the film has Danny running around with a gun like it’s a toy, something I expect most parents won’t want their kids to see.
The opening sequence of the film sets up a satire of action genre. The film pokes fun at both Die Hard and Lethal Weapon in the opening scene. And as Jack Slater strides onto the scene he’s framed with an extreme close-up, a stubbed cigar in his and a determined glare in his eye, a nod to the man with no name trilogy. All the action is ridiculously over the top but not always as amusing. Some of the other moments provide more amusing, like the heavily over-accented villain, longwinded monologues and the recurring ACME moments. The film is essentially a real life cartoon and even goes so far as to place a cartoon character into the police force.
However, the film does have this compelling, subtle evolution going on in the background. After watching Slater III again, Danny goes back to school where his teacher is showing Hamlet, one of the early action heroes. Of course, being a kid, Danny finds it all long winded and not enough action. He daydreams a Slater version of Hamlet, showing us how mindlessly ridiculous the action hero has become. Furthermore, he becomes paralleled with the cartoons, a goofy apparition that defies all logic.
Where the film gets compelling is in the third act when Jack Slater enters our world. He discovers humanity, a life without all the one-liners and explosions. This section of the film is far more compelling and has much more interesting things to say about the nature of action films and the world at large. It’s reminiscent of Wings of Desire as Slater finds pleasure in simple moments and sensations such as having a casual conversation or feeling the cool wind on his face. He finds everyday normal life far more enjoyable and exciting than all the bullets and explosions.
It’s a shame that such a beautiful idea gets lost amidst all the childish macho antics of the rest of the film. There’s a childlike wonder to this quarter section of the film that gets lost amidst all the childishness. Everything else is wrapped up in self-indulgent farce and crass comedy. And even worse, the last moments of the film circumvents the beauty of this moment, settling for a moment that is far easier for the audience to digest. For all the bravery of the hero it doesn’t have the guts to challenge its audience, miserably failing as a satire or even an entertaining film.
© 2009 James Blake Ewing