As it drifts on well past its expiration date, the great Schwarzenegger/Stallone rivalry still has its unfinished business. Until now.
At long last Sly Stallone has his “Last Action Hero,” an action pic — in this case a superhero story without a comic book origin or fanbase — that pairs the star up with an ever-grinning kiddie sidekick. It’s more modest and not as over-the-top dreadful as Arnold’s Nadir. The sins of “Samaritan” are being so dull and generic as to barely be worth making, much less watching.
In Granite City, Atlanta’s best simulation of Apocalyptic Detroit (which isn’t saying much), the superheroes who dueled for hearts and minds and supremacy were the feuding brothers Nemesis and Samaritan. Nemesis died, and supposedly, so did his less-evil twin.
Little Sam (Get it?), played by Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, is an impoverished tween — OK, 13 — who could go either way in the Big Book of Life. He’s hanging with would-be hoodlums, pitching in on bait-and-burgle jobs at the local bodega for dreadlocked Reza (Moises Arias). But Sam idolizes Samaritan and tags dumpsters and walls with the late superhero’s logo.
He even pesters the leading “Samaritan’s not dead” conspiracy theorist (Martin Starr), who has a MUCH more ornate “connect the dots” wall chart of “clues” about where the muscle man might have got to in the back of his bookstore.
Sam’s latest theory is that his neighbor, Joe the Garbage man, a loner in a hoodie, must be The Big S. That comes after Joe clobbers a gang that comes for the kid and takes a knife to the hand and doesn’t flinch.
“I just pick up garbage for a living,” the old man with “Rocky” reflexes grouses.
When a local gangster on the rise (Pilou Asbæk) sets out to acquire the sledgehammer (Uh oh. Call a lawyer.) and mask of the late Nemesis, Joe the Garbage man and his ever-grinning shadow have to take a stand.
Stallone is still a convincing man of action. A little editing, a bit of stuntman assistance, and he still comes off as a scowling brawler who can be baited into a fight, and who won’t stop until the corpses are stacked like firewood.
The script, with the reluctant “troglodyte” “loner” hero, leery of any city that’d “let a coupl’a genetic freaks” run it, lets down the side here.
It’s hard to buy into the “Who comes to help the helpless?” mythos when the whole villain’s Master Plan plays like something that dates from the “Dick Tracy” era — the 1940s comic strip, not the ’80s movie.
The effects are good enough, but there’s a lack of wit and ambition here that just reeks. That’s what you get when you figure out, early on, that no one builds action franchises around 76 year-olds. The novelty of this feeling like a one-off should be an asset, but it isn’t.
Still, Stallone got another chance to do what he’s done since MGM/UA made him a star way back in 1976 — carry a picture with his face and his fists. Pity it had to be his “Last Action Hero,” but it had to happen eventually.
Rating: PG-13 for strong violence and strong language
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, Pilou Asbæk, Dascha Polanco, Jared Odrick, Sophia Tatum and Moises Arias
Credits: Directed by Julius Avery, scripted by Bragi F. Schut. An MGM release on Amazon Prime.
Running time: 1:42