R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: The Last Boy Scout

Alright, so I was thinking I’d be done with my Die Hard/Bruce Willis obsession for the moment, but to be honest that seems to not be the case. I’ve had a whale of a time writing about the Die Hard films, leading up to the new one, which I can honestly say exceeded my expectations. Problem is, I’m out of Die Hard’s to write about. Oh sure, I could mention Speed or Cliffhanger or any number of other knockoff’s, and while I do really like Speed, I’m not as familiar with the movie as I need to be to really get into it for this column.

So instead, I randomly picked a Bruce Willis movie. As I had said last week, Bruce Willis’ wisecracking smart ass who made us love him in Die Hard and even before that on Moonlighting has gotten way more stoic as his career has gone on. His quips would be saved for specific points, such as when Butch finally starts wailing on Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction. Films such as Twelve Monkeys and Last Man Standing had Bruce explore much darker characters, with his John Smith in Last Man Standing saying almost nothing from beginning to end in that picture.

Willis showed off his serious acting chops in his pair of M. Night Shyamalan thrillers, but never really stopped making Action films as his aged warriors in Sin City and Tears of the Sun made us long for Bruce’s Yippee Ki-Yay days. It seemed the days when Willis would crack wise and make us laugh before he would smoke a fool seemed all but over. This is why seeing John McClane return was one of the best cinematic pleasures I’ve experienced in the theater in awhile.

Yeah, Willis has done quality work in the interim between the two Die Hard films, but McClane was always his career defining role. I mean, looking through my DVD collection I found that I really didn’t have a lot of Bruce Willis Action films. I’ve never been a big fan of Hudson Hawk or Striking Distance. Hostage is a complete bore, and theres no way Im going anywhere near Color of Night. So outside of my Die Hard DVDs, which I’m sure need a break after the last few weeks of wearing them out, where could I go for some smart aleck, bad ass awesomeness? Then finally I saw it there on my shelf; The Last Boy Scout.

The Last Boy Scout Starring Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Noble Willingham, Taylor Negron, Danielle Harris, and Halle Berry. Directed by Tony Scott

I think The Last Boy Scout is a movie that you can’t just give credit to one person for. The film has a competent director, a couple of stars who were on a meteoric rise at the time, a terrific look, a successful producer known for putting out pictures full of high gloss and serious action, and a writer who was just paid the highest sum of money ever for a screenplay. Now I think whether you like this film or not, you kind of have to admit the film pretty much accomplishes what it sets out to do. That is, you get a pretty hardcore, 90’s style Action film, with an abundance of dark humor.

On the DVD Commentary for Sin City, Frank Miller talks about how he was shocked that Robert Rodriguez was planning to go after Bruce Willis for the role of Hartigan. Calling him something to the effect of the “Bogart of the Modern Era”, he thought there was no way they would be able to land such a huge star. I thought about that quote while I watched this film, because just like Bogart, Willis would get the chance to play a private detective, only I don’t think that Bogie’s private eyes were ever as washed up as Willis’ Joe Hallenbeck.

How washed up are we talking here? Well, when we meet up with him, he looks like he’s on the back end of a bender, asleep in his beat up car, and the local neighborhood kids are seeing just how wasted he is by putting a dead squirrel on him to see if he’ll wake up. Going home isn’t much better either. Hallenbeck is on the outs with his wife, who is sleeping with his best friend, and his daughter absolutely hates his guts. As bad off as McClane is in Die Hard: With a Vengeance, I don’t think he’s in anywhere near as bad a shape as he is in this picture.

So, pretty much right from the get go Joe is completely thrown in over his head. After catching his wife sleeping with his best friend, Mike (Bruce McGill) he still takes a job that Mike was offering him as a type of bodyguard detail for a local exotic dancer named Cory (Halle Berry). Then as they’re finalizing the deal, Mike gets blown up right in front of Joe, but this doesn’t stop Joe from going to the job, only to get beaten up and nearly killed by a group of hitmen, right before they dispose of Cory.

What I love about this character is that even though he’s so down and out and does some pretty rotten things in this picture, much like Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, you never question if he’s good guy. Even if people turn on him, he’s loyal to the end. Really that’s the point of the whole title and plot to this film; no matter how bad anything gets, you can always count on Joe. You would think that with the man who gave him the job, and the person he was supposed to be protecting both dead, that would be it for Mr. Hallenbeck, but instead his need to set things right just won’t let him let go of the case.

There’s a part of me that wishes this wasn’t a buddy movie. Thing is, Willis is so good as Hallenbeck that he really doesn’t need a buddy, but at the same time, he could have done a lot worse than Damon Wayans as Jimmy Dix, former football star and grieving boyfriend of the now deceased Cory. As a character, Dix is pretty much bottoming out to the same degree as Hallenbeck. Thrown out of Professional Football for gambling, Dix is a drug addicted nobody, whose sole mission is to now try and get to the bottom of his girlfriend’s death.

Together, our heroes get entangled in a ridiculous web of intrigue involving the owner of the local Professional Football Team, a Senator with a past that entwines with Hallenbeck, gangsters, and legalizing gambling. Thing is, it doesn’t really matter how preposterous this plot is, because true to fashion the endless conspiracies are pretty commonplace within Noir detective novels, from Dashiell Hammett to James Ellroy. What matters here is the style with which this film is carried out, and on that front I think The Last Boy Scout is a complete winner.

As a talent, I don’t think anyone would ever really put Tony Scott on the same level as a director with his brother, Ridley. While he’ll probably never be as successful artistically, the younger Scott has had a pretty solid career, from the financially successful Top Gun to the hard as nails Man of Fire. Like I said, he’s never really had the artistic successes of his brother Ridley, such as Alien or Blade Runner, but at the same time he’s been able to really pull off stylish thrillers that entertain and even captivate, such as True Romance and The Hunger.

On that level, The Last Boy Scout is one of Scott’s better successes. The movie just seems to be permeated with this seedy underbelly of L.A. Everything, from the movie’s look and color scheme to its cinematography is just dingy and grimy. The violence, in the picture, while still very much adrenaline fusing, is very brutal, especially for this time period. I can’t even really pinpoint what sets it apart, but no kill in this film, from Hallenbeck killing a man by shoving his nose into his brain to several headshots and wicked gunshots, the film just feels more raw than many of the other films of this period.

Keeping the film fun though, is the job of Screenwriter Shane Black. Paid a ridiculous $4 million for this screenplay, the script isn’t on the same level as Black’s Lethal Weapon or Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but it is a lot of fun, just never letting up with the one-liners and pitch black humor. I’m not just talking about our heroes either, everyone in this film has a dirty mouth, from Senators to Hallenbeck’s daughter, Darian (Danielle Harris). If you don’t like watching 13 year olds curse, then this movie may not be for you.

The movie does feel a bit dated at times. Wayans’ wardrobe screams the early 90’s, especially the goofy hat he wears the entire movie, as do his $650 leather pants and frayed jacket that looks like he borrowed it from Steven Seagal. The biggest faults with the movie come with its discussions on football, such as comments about free agency ruining the game and another segment where they talk about low attendance and the possible death of Pro Football. Living in a time when the NFL is without a doubt the king of all sports leagues, this talk seems kind of ridiculous.

This movie does make me wonder if Producer Joel Silver hates Football. I remember Romeo Must Die, another Silver Production, had NFL representatives that were ruthless killers with bodyguards who had briefcases that turned into machine guns. In this movie, the main villain is a man who owns a Football team and employs heartless killers and causes his own running back to kill several players and even himself in a live broadcast. I’m sure Silver doesn’t actually hate Pro Football (who does?), but this just makes me wonder.

Bottom Line, The Last Boy Scout is a tremendously entertaining thriller with a terrifically hard-nosed Bruce Willis performance. This is scarred up, beat down, never stops talking back Bruce Willis, cut from the same cloth as John McClane. While the movie hasn’t aged as well as Willis’ Die Hard pictures, it certainly is able to give you that same type of fix if your DH discs have just about had it.