The Last Boy Scout (1991) – This underappreciated Tony Scott film is entertainment in it’s purest form

 

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The Last Boy Scout stars Bruce Willis as a former Secret Service agent-turned-loser private eye named Joe Hallenbeck. He gets a call from his friend Mike Mathews about a job. A strip dancer named Cory has been receiving threats and Joe is asked to be her bodyguard. He agrees and soon crosses paths with her boyfriend Jimmy Dix (played by Damon Wayans), a former L.A quarterback. Jimmy demands to know what trouble she is in but Joe wouldn’t tell him. Jimmy later finds Cory being shot dead in the middle of a busy street. Joe, who was following them, intervenes and Jimmy finds himself in the middle of a firefight between Joe and the hitmen. They both survive the attack and somehow finds themselves teaming up together despite some of the testing situations they are put through.

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I deliberately skipped some of the plot details so as to not ruin the experience for those who have not seen it yet. Reading this summary I’ve written, you might think that the story doesn’t sound all that great. But there is so much going on in it. The film can be best described as a contemporary film noir/action thriller. All the traditional film noir elements are there and at the same time, I don’t think you can call this an action comedy, even though there are some funny sequences and plenty of witty one-liners. Oh man, speaking of witty one-liners, there are so many of them that I’ve lost count. They are all brilliant! I haven’t heard anything like these in a long time.  They are the strongest aspect of the film and it works because of them.

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Willis and Wayans are perfectly cast. At first, it might seem like these two don’t belong in a movie together. Both play characters who are seemingly losers and hate their lives. Willis’ character seems like someone who got used to being called a loser and have very much come to accept that fact. Wayans’ character on the other hand doesn’t seem to take that fact very well. Both characters are involved with women who had cheated on them and both of them have had their share of misfortunes which have led them to the way they are now. Willis’ character reminded me so much of Elliott Gould’s Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye. They both are very similar except for the way they dress.

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This is the best buddy movie I’ve seen this side of Midnight Run. All credit goes to writer Shane Black (who wrote the Lethal Weapon series and recently wrote and directed Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Iron Man-3). If Shane is behind a script, you can expect to see at least one wisecracking character in there. There is a particular line that Wayans tells Willis towards the end of the film which sums up the whole movie perfectly, something to the effect of: “This is the dumbest thing I’ve seen you do. You want to avenge a guy who fucked your wife and you want to save a guy who you hate.” I have a feeling that this must have been exactly what Shane Black said when he was pitching the film to the studio bosses. It’s ingenious!

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I can’t seem to figure out why this movie slipped under my radar for such a long time. I mean, I grew up on a steady diet of Hollywood action movies and for some odd reason, I never ever thought of watching this one. Perhaps it’s because of the rottentomatoes rating? Or is it the imdb rating? Currently, it has a 44% on rottentomatoes and a 6.9 on imdb and I think this is very, very unfair. In this day and age when the Fast & Furious movies get a rating above 70%, I think this one deserves to have a rating above 80. It is that bloody entertaining. I think it’s way better than all the Die Hard sequels combined.

 

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Excellent post. Echoes what I said about this movie a while back:

    “Most buddy films have the lead pair as mismatched as possible, yet over the course of the film, they discover they have more in common than they thought. Lethal Weapon and the original 48 Hrs are prime examples of this. There’s some of that in The Last Boy Scout, yet I think Willis and Wayans realize sooner rather than later that they have one fundamental thing in common: they’re both at a point where their glory years have passed and they’re trying to take it day by day.

    John McClane, while ha is a smartass and can be something of an a**hole at times, is at heart a decent family man. Joe Hallenbeck isn’t a terrifically nice guy at the beginning of the movie and he isn’t one at the end either. He’s putting his life back together sure. But he’s changed only slightly as a person. What he does have in common with McClane is that he’s an ordinary working stiff.

    Jimmy Dix, while not as well-developed, is equally flawed. We see that he truly cares about Cory and he grows to care about Joe and his family. He’s made his share of mistakes. But he never seems to try to blame anyone else for them.

    Hallenbeck and Dix, while guilty of their share of misdemeanors, more or less got screwed over by the system. In the end they manage to exact some form of revenge when its revealed that those in the system that screwed them were even more corrupt.

    So The Last Boy scout works as well as it does primarily because of the characterization (which has always been Shane Black’s strength as a screenwriter) and the acting. In addition to Willis and Waynas, you have Noble Willingham as an effectively evil redneck and Taylor Negron who understands that his character is supposed to be over the top.

    The action sequences are also done well. Particularly the final showdown.

    True, there are some cliches here. The police captain is a prime example. Yet the cliches aren’t as intrusive as they are in other movies of this type.

    Yet many of the movies where the cliches are more intrusive are better remembered for some reason. Why is such undue love lavished upon the likes of Armageddon while The Last Boy Scout is more or less forgotten by today’s audiences?

    In some ways, The Last Boy Scout was a movie that was out of place and out of time. It was hindered by being released both in the shadow of Hudson Hawk and at a time when the action movie tropes of the 80s were starting to seem passe to much of the moviegoing public. Also many people were starting to look at Bruce Willis as a has been, a relic of the 80s that was sticking around for a few more years. Pulp Fiction and a few other subsequent films would prove this wrong. But this was how it looked to many moviegoers in that period of the early 90s.

    The movie’s cynical, downbeat tone also didn’t help. Many critics pointed out a certain level of misogyny in the movie itself and there is some truth to that. Not more than what you might hear in an NWA song perhaps. But the Last Boy Scout was a very politically incorrect movie released at a time when audiences were becoming more PC.

    My recent re-watch illustrates this perfectly. In a way, if it had been released two years earlier or later it might have caught on. Once Tarantino re-wrote the rules of edgy filmmaking, films with a cynical tone weren’t as out of place.

    I watched The Last Boy Scout a large number of times as a teen and still enjoy it today at 37. It may not be perfect. But it’s an example of a well-done action picture that’s above the norm.

    Liked by 1 person

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