After the glorious excesses of the 80’s, certain genres (let’s say the more far fetched ones) had to find a way to change with the times or find themselves obsolete. Audiences of the 90’s had come to find the huge, oiled human juggernauts of your Schwarzeneggers and you’re Stallones tougher to emphasize with than, say, the everyman of John McClane and so the swaggering, indestructible forms of Rambo or John Matrix gave way to less callous and more sensitive dealers of destruction such as Jack Traven from Speed and Cameron Poe from Con Air.
However, during this period of transition it was inevitable that some movies were going to be stuck somewhere in the middle and no movie was more indicative of this than 1991’s The Last Boy Scout; a magnificent fusing of the bombastic visuals of Tony Scott and the hopeful cynicism of a Shane Black script.
Reviews at the time weren’t exactly glowing and the following years have seen it denied the praise I feel it deserves, but these days it plays as an impossible cool throwback to the days when action heroes saved the day by blowing out the brains out of bad guys in a crowed street with immunity.
Disgraced secret service agent Joe Hallenbeck now passes his time as a private investigator inbetween bouts of chronic self loathing and driving his disintegrating marriage into the ground. After he finds out his best buddy Mike is having an affair with his wife, Joe feels he’s finally hit rock bottom but still takes a job to keep an eye on an exotic dancer because he still needs the money, but he’s about to wander into a murderous conspiracy that’ll see him tangle with massive explosions, verbose thugs and the cutthroat world of professional football.
After a car bomb reduces Mike to his constituent atoms and a fullisade of machine gun fire turns the dancer into voluptuous swiss cheese, Joe teams up with her boyfriend, Jimmy Dix a disgraced quaterback for the LA Stallions (there’s a lot of disgraced guys in this movie) in order to unravel the happenings behind these brutal and very flashy murders.
Before they know it, this mismatched pair are up to their eyeballs in bullets, blood and large amounts of blunt force trauma as their investigations lead them to uncover the fact that all these brutal murders lead to an attempt by LA Stallions owner, Shelly Marcone to bribe a corrupt senator to legalise gambling on professional sports.
As the bodies pile up and the loose ends start to tie off, the world weary Hallenbeck, an out of his depth Dix and even Joe’s foul mouthed fifteen year old daughter aim to settle things once and for all at a stadium with a major football game in full swing, but there’s still a huge amount of dead bad guys and witty retorts left to get through before the full time whistle blows and the credits roll…
From the opening credits that sees Bill Medley belt out a song about American football like his life depended on it to the first scene which sees a terrified football player played by tae bo creator Billy Blanks desperately try to score a touchdown by pulling a gun as he hurtles toward the end zone before blowing his brains out on national television, The Last Boy Scout is an unrepentant blast that seizes you by the windpipe and refuses to let go until you have some motherfucking fun. In case you haven’t guessed, The Last Boy Scout is a movie that I love like a goddamn brother, if such a thing was possible and the secret to its forever endearing appeal to me is because of the filmmaker’s refusal to be even remotely subtle about every single aspect of the film.
Let’s start with Bruce Willis’ Joe Hallenbeck, a hero who makes stratospheric self loathing a freaking art form who lopes across the screen, constantly puffing on a cigarette while sporting uncombed hair and a five o’clock shadow slapped permanently on his scowling mush. Willis goes all in, wrapping his split lips around some typically awesome Shane Black dialogue and indulging in some career best acts of unfathomably cool acts of stunning violence. Whether he’s calmly putting the nose through the brain of a henchman who violently and repeatedly refuses to just give him a cigarette (“Touch me again and I’ll kill ya.”) or making jokes about how fat a thug’s wife is so to distract him enough to slay him with a broken bottle, Hallenback my not be as great as John McClane, but he’s damn close – I mean, as cool as he is, McClane didn’t dance a jig to celebrate surviving the events in Nakatomi Plaza, did he. Filling in mis-matched buddy duties superbly is Damon Wayans as tragic, drug addicted football player Jimmy Dix who matches Willis quip for quip (“I’m going to the bathroom, ok? You wanna come? My doctor says I shouldn’t lift anything heavy.”) and has a neat line in smashing in people’s noses with a well hurled football.
However, all this comes together so well because director Tony Scott and producer Joel Silver are willing to go all in on Black’s highly inventive carnage and make every act of action thrillingly overblown. Every gunshot sounds like a cannon, every punch sounds like a lump of being dropped off a twenty storey building and exploding cars shoot up into the air like a telegraph pole has been launched up through the centre as the one liners get ever more preposterous. “Man, you couldn’t protect a cup of warm piss!” is one such utterance that’s so ludicrous it’s virtually genius, as is “I figure you gotta be the dumbest guy in the world, Joe. You’re trying the save the life of the man who ruined your career, and avenge the death of the guy that fucked your wife!”. Its a dizzying concoction that left people cold at the time, but now it plays phenomenal well, almost like an exaggerated, post-modern, hyper-brutal, meditation to what 80’s action movies used to be with everything dialed up to eleven with even the typical marital problems the lead has in this kind of movie being ludicrously over the top (“I believe in love. I also believe in cancer…”)
The fact that this movie isn’t as more fondly regarded than it is sometimes causes me actual physical pain in my more introspective moments because to deny The Last Boy Scout classic action movie status is to turn your back on an ace Bruce Willis performance, a great buddy comedy, a Tony Scott action epic and a cracking Shane Black script – not to mention early roles for Halle Berry and an uncredited James Gandolfini…
“Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You’re gonna lose.” Hallenbeck scolds himself at one point while staring at his hated self in a rear view mirror.
The box office and Rotten Tomatoes may have agreed with you Joe – but I still fucking love ya.