MCC Home Video Scorecard #4: Desert, Dessert, Cops and Flops

Last Action Hero!

Hey, remember when he was in movies? Good times, am I right? Oh, hey, there’s Schwarzenegger on the right, too.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s me jotting down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. In this batch: Aragorn, Ah-nuld, and two former teen stars — one all grown up, and one grown up only on the inside.

* Hidalgo: Viggo Mortensen could’ve parlayed his Lord of the Rings wealth and fame into the foundation for a new A-list empire to rule us all. Instead his next impulse was a desert vacation that’s Lawrence of Arabia versus Seabiscuit, where he got to travel to Asia, see exotic scenery, hang out with all manner of fine horses, and meet Omar Sharif. It honestly might’ve netted more at the box office if it had been made in the 1980s, and there were apparently arguments a-plenty about its historical authenticity. True or not, though, in the hands of director Joe Johnston (Captain America: the First Avenger!), this white-guy-vs.-nonwhites underdog tale about a 3000-mile desert horseback marathon nonetheless offers an adventure-serial escapade with pretty HD desert photography and Mortensen trying really hard to de-Hollywood himself and not make anyone swoon over him. I doubt it worked. (For my own part, I got this for free on Blu-ray with the last of my Disney Movie Rewards points.)

Other faces I recognized: JK Simmons briefly as Buffalo Bill Cody; five seconds of Malcolm McDowell; and Silas Carson (a.k.a. Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi) as a nemesis who’s not nearly as suave as he thinks he is.

* Waitress: For me, adultery is the closest I come to having a “trigger”, if you will. I bristled and harrumphed through much of the running time while Keri Russell and her happy-go-lucky small-town quirk-hoarding diner denizens took turns brainstorming and acting out reasons to ignore wedding vows. But then (spoilers), when at the very end she finally turns around and rejects adultery as a lifestyle choice? Gotta say, I appreciated that. The film’s greatest trick is casting The Nathan Fillion as the perfectly manly love interest, because when we learn he’s cheating on his wife, the first response is, “Well, this is The Nathan Fillion, so he’s probably got a great reason for stepping out, so let’s wait and see.” And the film keeps going, and we meet his wife, and she seems sweet and attractive, so the next logical thought is, “Okay, so she probably has terrible secrets. Let’s see what kind of monster she is!” And the film keeps going, and her dark side is never revealed, she has no lover of her own, she’s not lazy or shrewish, and she never even turns out to be a closet serial killer. The movie’s great twist is that Nathan Fillion’s country doctor is, at the end of the day, cheating on his wife because he’s a big fat stupid jerk, like 99.999999% of all real-life adulterers. Lesson learned, Keri Russell dumps him, and I cheered on the inside.

That being said: it’s hard to take Waitress to task for much more than that if you know before watching it that writer/director/costar Adrienne Shelley was murdered before its release. The film is packed with signals of what-might-have-been potential, and not just in the frequent shots of glorious homemade gourmet pies.

Other faces I recognized: Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as a slightly less grouchy version of Flo from Alice; Jeremy Sisto as the living embodiment of every horrible TV-movie husband ever, though at least he doesn’t murder; Eddie Jemison (last seen in the Veronica Mars movie) as an awkward suitor to Shelley’s put-upon waitress; and, in one of his final film roles, the late Andy Griffith as the cranky diner owner who orders his meals like he’s Sally Albright’s finicky father.

* 17 Again: This Zac Efron flick made its way onto our property as a Christmas gift from a well-meaning relative. I never reject gifted films outright, but I’ll admit this one sat on the viewing pile for years before I finally relented and popped it in. To my surprise, I didn’t loathe it. Body-swapping comedy is old territory in TV and movies alike, but the slight twist resonated with me on a certain level: trapped inside Efron’s teen body is a midlife-crisis Matthew Perry who can’t return to adulthood until he finds a way to fix the messes that his own teenage children have made of their lives, partly as a result of his parental incompetence/absence. That’s still not groundbreaking, but it caught my attention.

Many jokes fell flat (Kevin Federline references haven’t aged well), but more than a few landed just right, and the tension between Perry/Efron and his still-adult nearly-ex-wife (Leslie Mann) went beyond creepy at times, but the film acknowledges that and adds it to the repair list as it goes. It kept correcting its own missteps as quickly as I could spot them. I tried to dislike it, but it never happened. Clearly I’ve gone soft. For now, I’m okay with that.

Other faces I recognized: Jan from The Office as the school principal; Thomas Lennon as Perry’s best friend, a rich geek who knows all the body-swapping tropes, but is painful to watch whenever he hews more closely to Big Bang Theory than to Community; Buffy‘s Michelle Trachtenberg as Perry/Efron’s daughter who thinks she already found true love (HA); comedian Jim Gaffigan as the gym coach; and Brian Doyle-Murray as the mystic janitor who makes this Freaky Friday/Big/Vice Versa tribute possible

* Last Action Hero: I saw this exactly once in theaters when I was 21. I didn’t hate it, but I knew something was wrong with it. Another 21 years later, my second viewing was made possible via cheap Blu-ray. And by “cheap” I mean it came with zero extras, it had no subtitles or audio options or even scene selections, and its menu was literally a single “PLAY MOVIE” button with nowhere else to move your cursor. I suppose this is apt for a film that will never receive Criterion Collection consideration.

It’s kind of cool to add another film from Shane Black’s resumé to my shelf, but there are long stretches where the words don’t sound like Black’s and are probably the fault of the co-writer, the actors themselves, and/or an army of unpaid intern ghost-writers for all I know. I cherished those brief instances where Naked Gun lunacy was achieved, and I laughed while I could. But this action movie mocking action movies wastes far too much time setting up the serious action-movie aspects before it proceeds to trash them. No one cares about the serious aspects that much, and they’re even more stultifying than normal Schwarzenegger ’80s films. If Schwarzenegger were as humble or self-degrading as Leslie Nielsen was, I think this would’ve sailed a lot more smoothly, but he seems afraid to let go 100%, as if he still wants to preserve that action hero image despite the zingers. Edgar Wright later proved with Hot Fuzz that an action-cop parody/homage could deconstruct and uphold the classic motifs at the same time, but Last Action Hero isn’t nearly nimble enough to split the difference.

Other faces I recognized, besides countless actors and celebrities playing and/or poking fun at themselves: Academy Award Winner F. Murray Abraham as a fellow cop who barely matters; Mercedes Ruehl as the child actor’s mom; Tom Noonan as a killer much less nuanced than the one he played in Manhunter; and movie-within-movie contributions from elderly victim Art Carney, mob boss Anthony Quinn, and, best of all, a pre-Gandalf pre-Magneto Ian McKellen as Ingmar Bergman’s Death, who really should’ve been the main villain all along. If only they’d known what his future held. McKellen’s, I mean, not Death’s.


2 responses

    • I’m really relieved to know I wasn’t alone in this. It’s not like I’m a Zac Efron fan, either. I’ve never seen a single High School Musical, though my son was forced to watch one at school once. I get the impression Efron is one of those actors who’s supposed to be cool to hate, but I thought he did just fine. This should’ve been SO much worse.


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