D: Tony Scott / 105m
Cast: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Chelsea Field, Noble Willingham, Taylor Negron, Danielle Harris, Halle Berry, Bruce McGill, Badja Djola, Kim Coates, Chelcie Ross, Joe Santos, Clarence Felder
Joe Hallenbeck (Willis) is an ex-presidential bodyguard turned private detective who looks like a bum and is fast becoming estranged from his wife, Sarah (Field) and daughter Darian (Harris). Taking a job protecting a stripper – sorry, exotic dancer – named Cory (Berry), Joe falls foul of her boyfriend, disgraced L.A. Stallions quarterback Jimmy Dix (Wayans). When Cory is killed, Joe and Jimmy (reluctantly) team up to find out why she was killed, and who was behind it. The trail leads to the owner of the L.A. Stallions, Sheldon Marcone (Willingham), and an audio tape that contains a recording of Marcone attempting to bribe an influential senator called Baynard (Ross) into approving a bill that would make sports gambling legal. When the audio tape is accidentally ruined, Joe and Jimmy must find another way of bringing Marcone to justice.
However, it’s not as easy as they would like. Marcone’s goons, led by urbane psycho Milo (Negron), are continually trying to either frame Joe or dispose of Jimmy, and their problems get worse when Darian ends up in Marcone’s clutches. With Senator Baynard agreeing to a $6,000,000 bribe, Marcone arranges for the briefcase with the money in it to be swapped for one that has ten pounds of C4 instead. With an important L.A. Stallions match coming up, and the Senator in attendance, Joe and Jimmy have to stop the Senator from being blown up, and amass enough evidence to stop the police from arresting them instead of Marcone.
Famously known for the price paid for writer Shane Black’s script – a then whopping $1.75 million – The Last Boy Scout is an action movie that combines often sadistic violence with a large amount of drily profane humour, and never once lets the viewer forget how clever it is. Its plot is paper thin (and a little beside the point), and its principal villain borders on being constructed from cardboard, but it’s the attitude that counts: irreverent, flippant, and yet with a well-developed sense of decency at its core that offsets all the vulgarity and casual mayhem. (It’s worth noting at this point that Black’s script was heavily reworked by Willis and producer Joel Silver during production; that the movie is as good as it is, is nothing short of a miracle.)
Viewed now, twenty-three years on, it’s aged remarkably well, with only the lack of mobile phones and the Internet highlighting its age (that and the amount of hair on Willis’s head). The characters may be familiar, but they’re fleshed out by a cast that clearly relishes the whip-smart dialogue. Willis’s world-weary turn as Joe Hallenbeck (a nice twist on the phrase “hell and back”) is a lesson in how to be laconic and expansive at the same time, and he invests Joe with a no-nonsense attitude that riffs on every other loner hero we’ve ever seen while still making him seem fresh. Wayans has the more earnest role, but acquits himself well, his comic leanings put aside in order to provide the make the student/teacher dynamic between Jimmy and Joe that much more credible (though he has his own fair share of one-liners). Willingham is appropriately arrogant and slimy as the villainous Marcone, while Negron oozes an oily menace as Milo, his outwardly refined behaviour masking the soul of a cold-blooded killer. As Sarah, Field is unsurprisingly sidelined for most of the movie, which leaves Harris unexpectedly brought to the fore in the movie’s final third; she’s more than capable and takes on Darian’s troubled child persona and makes her instantly likeable (if there’s ever likely to be a sequel, it should see Harris reprise her role as an adult and inheriting Joe’s private detective business; it could be called The Last Girl Guide?).
The action scenes are well-staged and include enough twists and embellishments to make them stand out from the crowd, and there’s some sterling stunt work as well. There’s plenty of casual violence (the scene where Joe warns Chet (Coates), “Touch me again and I’ll kill you” is still a highlight), and it’s all expertly orchestrated by Scott. The director adds his preference for heavily filtered skylines to the mix, but keeps the attention-sapping, frenzied editing style of his later movies in check, and marshals what could be very disparate elements into a more than satisfying whole (quite an achievement given the production’s notoriously difficult shoot).
Rating: 8/10 – a wonderful mix of caustic humour and nonchalant bloodshed, The Last Boy Scout turns genre expectations on their head throughout and is all the more entertaining because of it; Willis is on top form and and the movie sums everything up perfectly when Joe says: “This is the 90’s. You can’t just walk up and slap a guy, you have to say something cool first”.