Arnie's double take misses the target

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 July, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 July, 1993, 12:00am

LAST ACTION HERO, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O'Brien, Charles Dance and Mercedes Ruehl. Directed by John McTiernan. On Edko Circuit.

WHO does Arnold Schwarzenegger think he is? The box-office goldmine who worked his way up through the ranks from Conan to Commando and then Kindergarten Cop, has obviously spent too much time watching Woody Allen films.

In his latest US$129 million (HK$1 billion) extravaganza, Last Action Hero, Schwarzenegger has taken The Purple Rose of Cairo 's premise, added a few guns - well, a lot of guns - and even given a huge nod to Allen's own hero, Ingmar Bergman.

But does it work? Hardcore Arnie fans will prob-ably be disappointed.

Although it has its fair share of car chases, explosions and violence, the film aspires to the status of The Player rather than The Terminator.

With oodles of inside jokes, cameo appearances by everyone from Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct garb to Humphrey Bogart's Casablanca persona, and more throw-away lines than all of Schwarzenegger's films put together, we have the makings of a clever movie.

Alas, the two hours and two minutes-long end-product misses the mark somehow.

Schwarzenegger's fictional movie character, LA cop Jack Slater, lives the proverbial action hero life (as seen in Lethal Weapon, especially).

A black lieutenant greets him daily with a barrage of insults at the futuristic police station, the ex-wife leaves irate phone messages on his machine, and bad guys keep chasing him and blowing up his house for no apparent reason.

The stage seems set for a typical Schwarzenegger blast-'em-away couple of hours, but then in steps Danny (O'Brien), a young boy who spends his days missing school to watch his hero Slater destroy the evils of the Hollywood world.

Through a ''magic ticket'', Danny finds himself catapulted on to Slater's set.

The next 11/2 hours is spent with Danny and Slater teamed together in the ultimate buddy film, as the boy tries to convince Slater he is a fictional character as well as helping him apprehend a ridiculous set of mobsters.

One of the brighter bad guys (Dance) steals Danny's ticket and makes his way into the real world, causing havoc which Danny and Slater must stop.

The stage is set for ''our world, their world'' gags, and they are there, albeit in crude form.

The real sophistication comes from the special effects used in various chase scenes.

Using the ''it's only a movie'' effect to its fullest, cars continuously race down alleys on two wheels.

Danny and Slater find themselves bouncing back from falls that would have cartoon characters begging for mercy.

The movie-within-a-movie plot is incidental, and much of it could have ended up on the cutting room floor.

The film itself, revolving around the relationship between Slater and Danny, is more lively.

Schwarzenegger picks up where Terminator 2 left off, and is obviously fascinated with the theme of hero worship and the responsibility that comes with it.

It is refreshing to hear the moralising soliloquies Slater blurts out in his deadpan delivery amid all the slayings. Mercedes Ruehl gives a brief but stunning performance as Danny's mother.

Poking serious fun at himself, Schwarzenegger nevertheless ensures he makes the jokes and then accepts the applause.

Most notable is a scene in which Jack Slater encounters his off-screen self, the real Arnold Schwarzenegger, during the premiere of Jack Slater IV.

Schwarzenegger gets a real earful from real-life wife Maria Shriver.

Gripping his arm before encountering the media, she pleads with him: ''Don't plug the restaurants. I hate it when you plug the restaurants. It's so tacky.'' When the media hounds do pounce, the real Arnie tries to cement his new image, as presented in the latest action flick: ''I only killed 48 people,'' he trumpets, ''but we make up for it with a good story, a lot of emotion and depth.'' Then, much to Shriver's dismay and the audience's delight, he launches into a promo for his restaurants.

Stars float in and out (James Belushi and Jean-Claude Van Damme included), and are prompted by the press to give their thoughts on the real action hero.

There is a fundamental confusion about Last Action Hero.

It is difficult to tell if Schwarzenegger is thumbing his nose at the media who criticise him, or wants to show how creative and humble a star he really is.

Either way, he is determined to laugh all the way to the bank.