The Last Boy Scout
You wanna be a detective? Here’s what you do: Take a trusted friend, and imagine the worst thing, the most despicable thing, and the thing it would never even cross their minds to do. Then assume they’ve already done it twice. – Joe Hallenbeck
( Spoiler Alert: Some key scenes in the movie are discussed here, readers please note).
A football match in progress, under heavy rain, at the Soldier Field stadium in Chicago. In a corner we have the player Billy Cole(Billy Blanks) sitting alone, sweating, eyes filled with tension, his mind drifting back to the call he received earlier, to either win the match for Chicago Bears or get ready to be bumped off. Cheerleaders, bands, a noisy crowd, heavy rain, the atmosphere is utterly raucous, Billy Cole, the star player takes the field. And then the shocker, as Billy makes the run towards the post, he shoots 3 men, before being surrounded by the cops, where he shoots himself dead, claiming “I am going to Disneyland”. One of the most shocking opening scenes that throw you off kilter. A guy running on the sports field, shooting people and then himself, crazy. And this is a scene that has all of Tony Scott’s trademark flourishes, slow motion shots, intercutting with shots of pouring rain, players faces, blood splattering on to the helmet and a chaotic atmosphere. An opening scene that just leaves you dazed, and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
The script for The Last Boy Scout was written by Shane Black, who was paid a cool 1 million dollars for it. Trivia aside, Black made his debut in Hollywood, with a buddy cop flick, that apart from being one of the top grosser in the 80’s, also is regarded as one of the best movies made in that genre. Lethal Weapon was not exactly the first of the “buddy cop” genre, there was “In the Heat of the Night” with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger in the late 60’s, and earlier in 1982, you had the cop Nick Nolte take the help of a convict Eddie Murphy to nab another crook in 48 hours. Black however had his own style of writing, get two totally mismatched characters thrown in together either due to professional reasons or circumstances gets them to squabble throughout and drop in a whole lot of one smart, witty one liner. It was a formula he patented successfully, Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout and his own directorial debut, Kiss,Kiss,Bang,Bang, a fabulous satire on crime movies. And more often than not create characters that are more edgy, spaced out, more anti hero.
Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You’re an asshole and you’r stupid. You’re gonna lose.
Neither of the two main protagonists in The Last Boy Scout is particularly likeable either. Bruce Willis is Joe Hallenbeck, an ex US Secret Service agent, who was shunted out in disgrace, now making a living as a private investigator. When we are introduced to Willis, he is a tired, grouchy, worn out figure, sleeping in an old creaky car, half drunk, as one of the kids says “Dude’s trashed”. And his office is an equally run down, shack. So trashed is Joe, that the kids on the street think nothing of making fun of him, throwing a dead squirrel into the car. And if his professional life is in a mess, his family life is nothing much great either. His neglected wife Sarah (Chelsea Fields) is sleeping around with his best friend Mike Matthews (Bruce McGill), whiles his daughter Darian (Danielle Harris), and is brash, cares for none else, rude and a troublemaker at school. In short a screwed up career, and a dysfunctional family, Joe Hallenbeck, a far cry from the noble American hero, who fights the bad guys and is a loving family man.
I don’t remember what I did last night. I’m an idiot, Harp, I act like a complete dickhead. I don’t have friends. I drink too much. I fuck anything that’s warm and breathing.
The other protagonist Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) is a former National Football League star who has been banned from the game, after he had been caught shaving off points. Now addicted to coke, hanging around aimlessly, indulging in wild nights, he really does not have much of a life. Except saving hapless females once in a while from some sadistic grouches. Like Joe, Jimmy had once been living the high life, he had it all fame, glory, before he threw it away all with his indiscretion.
James Alexander Dix, L.A. Stallions,’86 and ’87. Barred from the N.F.L. on gambling charges. Allegations of point shaving to support a cocaine habit, never proven.
The two men, fallen now in disgrace, meet, thanks to Jimmy’s ex girl friend Cory( Halle Berry), to whom Joe has been appointed as the bodyguard in a case. Cory works as a waitress cum stripper for a shady joint in town, and Joe has been asked to protect her from a stalker threatening to rape her. Much to the chagrin of Jimmy, who still has the feeling for Cory. One of the best scenes in the movie, “Hi you are nobody”, where Jimmy has a showdown with Joe. One of the best parts of Shane Black’s writing is his often tongue in cheek take on the standard action movie clichés and scenes. And that is the best part in this scene, where Jimmy tries to show off on Joe, seeing him as an intruder.
One more really nice touch, by Black again is the way he depicts Joe’s deduction powers, the first time we see it, when he catches his wife sleeping around. And here too, again, when Jimmy accosts him with “You know who I am?”, and Joe coolly blurts out his entire history, including his cheating. Joe seems to be more of a latter day Sherlock Holmes, who can kick ass, when needed, albeit with a messed up professional and personal life. It is the humorous touches in the movie, that really enliven it up, as in the part where after Joe, has caught a punch of Jimmy and left him reeling, coolly explains to him “Hell, I am a big fan”.
She’s so fat I had to roll her in flour and look for the wet spot. You wanna fuck her, you gotta slap her thigh and ride the wave in. Like the Pillsbury doughboy, except when you poke her in the stomach, she farts. –Joe to one of the goons.
While ostensibly a hard core action flick, Last Boy Scout, is liberally peppered with a whole lot of wry humor, cheeky one liners and digs by the characters at themselves. In fact those one liners ensure that the movie does not get bogged down too much in seriousness. This is a movie that was meant to be a fun fest all the way through, and credit to both Scott and Black, for maintaining that. Take the scene where Joe is accosted by 3 thugs, it is again typically Tony Scott, hard core action, slow mo, and guttural. You have Bruce Willis lunging at one of the thugs, plunging a broken bottle in his neck. But the way he catches one of the thugs off guard, referring to how he had been sleeping around with his wife, throwing him off guard and then lunging, wonderfully set up by Scott. The action scene that follows when the hit men assault Cory and Jimmy, again has the typical Scott flourishes, plenty of slow mo shots, guns firing, noise and again bloody violent. Cory is killed in the shootout, in spite of the best efforts of Joe to save here. And again the utter self centered nature of both the heroes comes out. Joe rummages the pockets of one of the dead men for some cigarettes and has a fag, while Jimmy’s response to seeing Cory’s bullet ridden body, is to snort more coke, and then throw up.
Cory’s death however gets Jimmy now involved with Joe, though the latter, does not want anything more with the case. Pretty much a clear case of opposites who have nothing in common, right down to the music Joe listens, ”Dick Haymes, who the fuck is Dick Haymes?”. Where Jimmy is still a bit of an old fashioned romantic, believing in love, for Joe it’s “I believe in cancer, I believe in love”. The odd couple however begins to bond, well after Joe saves Jimmy from the gangsters, at Cory’s place where they are seeking evidence. A near miss with death, a messy car explosion, from which both the men escape later, they find a clinching piece of evidence at Cory’s place. A photograph of Senator Calvin Baynard with the LA football team owner Shelly Marcone, the latter attempting to bribe the former. Baynard was the Senator, who had earlier framed up Joe in a drug possession case, after Joe had inadvertently caused the death of his son, when he caught him at an accident site, drunk fully. And Marcon was the man, responsible for throwing out Jimmy from professional football. So now we have two men, disgraced in their careers, getting the chance for redemption and revenge on the men who ruined their lives.
The Last Boy Scout is a hard core guy’s movie, make no mistake, it is the kind of movie, you would rather not take your girl out on a date with. It is rude, coarse and abrasive, the language is littered with abuses and a generous usage of the F-Word. The movie is typical of the 80’s,90’s era action movies, where men were men, and action was well hard core action. This is a movie where the action relies more on the kicks, the blood and guts, the high octane action scenes, than any technical gimmickry. Tony Scott movies usually have action scenes, that can often leave you wide eyed in disbelief. And here there are couple, one is the scene where both Willis and Wayans escape from a burning car hurtling towards them, and the climax, that has another “believe it or not” scene. The one liners, the bonding between Willis and Wayans, the fact that both Willis and Wayans are losers of the first order in a way, makes this somewhat better than the standard action flicks. Be warned though the movie is terribly misogynistic, not one of the female characters seems to have any redeeming qualities. Cory is an opportunist who uses her sex appeal to make money, Joe’s wife sleeps around with his best friend, and his daughter is an utterly rude prick, who does not hesitate to call her Dad an asshole.
Bruce Willis more or less rephrases his John McLane character, albeit with a dash of Holmes like sleuthing abilities, and having to deal with a totally screwed up family life. This is the kind of role, he would have done any time in his sleep, add to that, his ability to deliver a witty one liner with a dead beat expression, a wry, hang dog air, makes that character more memorable. TV actor Damon Wayans does well, providing to be an effective foil to Willis, and it’s the bonding between both of them, that proves to be the movie’s strength. If you are in the mood for a hard core, popcorn blockbuster, a 100% guy’s movie, go for it.