Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review: "The Last Boy Scout" is Still Cool (Happy B'day, Tony Scott)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 13 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Last Boy Scout (1991)
Running time: 105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Tony Scott
WRITERS: Shane Black; from a story by Shane Black and Greg Hicks
PRODUCERS: Joel Silver and Michael Levy
EDITORS: Stuart Baird, Mark Goldblatt, and Mark Helfrich

ACTION/CRIME/DRAMA with elements of comedy

Starring: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Noble Willingham, Chelsea Field, Taylor Negron, Danielle Harris, Halle Berry, Bruce McGill, Chelcie Ross, Joe Santos, Bill Medley, Verne Lundquist, Dick Butkus, Lynn Swann, Billy Blanks, Morris Chestnut, Badja Djola, and Eddie Griffin

As the 1990’s opened, the skyrocketing budget of Hollywood film productions was the story about which the entertainment news media couldn’t stop talking. The Bruce Willis headliner, The Last Boy Scout, was the talk of the town from the moment screenwriter, Shane Black, became the first person to sell a script for one million dollars, which he did with The Last Boy Scout Script. After the Hudson Hawk debacle, which saw that super expensive flick, also starring Willis, become a box office dud (although it’s one of my favorite movies), The Last Boy Scout looked like another over-priced dud. However, released during the 1991 holiday season, it became a modest hit, grossing just under $60 million against an estimated production budget of about that much.

Willis is Joseph Cornelius Hallenbeck, Joe for short, a disgraced Secret Service agent who now moonlights as a private detective – a down and out, cynical private dick. Damon Wayans is James Alexander Dix, Jimmy Dix for short, a disgraced former MVP quarterback for the pro football team, the L.A. Stallions, thrown out of the league because he gambled. They meet when Joe accepts a job acting as a bodyguard for Jimmy’s girl friend Cory (Halle Berry), a stripper who dates rich men.

When Cory is murdered in a gangland style hit and a friend of Joe’s is killed by a car bomb, the two come together to solve the murders. What they discover is that both their former employers: Senator Calvin Baynard (Chelcie Ross) who got Joe fired and Sheldon “Shelly” Marcone (Noble Willingham) who owns the Stallions, are united in a shady and deadly deal to legalize gambling on professional football. What Joe and Jimmy find themselves in is a deadly game of life and death that is as bone-crushing and bruising as any football game, and it’s a game that also comes with bullets flying.

The script by Shane Black, who reinvented the cop-buddy action flick with his script for Lethal Weapon, penned a script for The Last Boy Scout that is all over the place. Set in Los Angeles, it shows his love for Raymond Chandler’s private eye stories, but this is more a crime drama than a film noir-ish detective tale. It’s a violent action comedy, and buddy action flick like 48 Hours, in which two men are forced into the situation of being partners and have a hard time warming up to one another.

Besides, it’s genre pedigree, the script is mostly haphazard, as it tries to shoehorn serious human drama into a violent detective/conspiracy framework. The movie jumps around a lot. Sometimes, it’s a melodramatic tale of a broken family. Sometimes, it’s a high-octane action comedy. Sometimes, it’s a shootout picture. Then, it’s a drama again, but a few minutes later, someone has to be shot in the head. A few minutes later, everyone has jokes.

What makes this movie work, ultimately, is director Tony Scott. Riding high off such late 80’s action hits as Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II, he was one of Hollywood’s very top action directors, but he was (and still is) an all-around, very skilled filmmaker. Scott is the one who makes just about every one of Black’s genre conventions work. The film comes together slowly, but when it does, it’s with a bang. By the end, The Last Boy Scout is fun and exciting, with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor because Black is somewhat spoofing the sub-genre he helped to create. Shamelessly and gratuitously violent, it’s the gun violence that keeps this from being an exceptional film.

Willis and Wayans have tolerable film chemistry, and like the film, it takes a bit for them to warm up to each other and get in synch. When all comes together, it’s a doozy – rollicking, hilarious fun for men who love movies. Their performances, like this movie, aren’t worthy of a long-cinematic memory, but when the appetite calls for an action flick, there are worse choices… much worse.

6 of 10

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


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