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The Last Boy Scout

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Last Boy Scout

Starring: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans
Director: Tony Scott
Rated: R
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: December 1991
Genres: Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Halle Berry, Chelsea Field, Noble Willingham, Taylor Negron, Danielle Harris, Bruce McGill

Review by Dragan Antulov
4 stars out of 4

When Tarantino became something of the ultimate authority on Hollywood few years ago, many critics were taken aback by his view of brothers Ridley and Tony Scott. Before Tarantino's verdict Tony Scott was seen as nothing more than untalented hack who had just happened to be related to the author of masterpieces like ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER. Tarantino changed this perception by proclaiming Tony Scott to be much better director than Ridley Scott. Nowadays, Tarantino's verdict seems justified with Ridley Scott jeopardising his reputation with the series of hack jobs and Tony Scott enjoying reputation of a director who could produce more than decent films, able to stand on its own. One of the first examples of such talent could be found in THE LAST BOY SCOUT, 1991 action film which is probably the best film of Tony Scott's career, but also one of the most underrated titles of previous few decades.

The script for this film was written by Shane Black, screenwriter best known as the author of LETHAL WEAPON series. The protagonist is Joe Hallenbeck (played by Bruce Willis), private detective that used to be highly decorated Secret Service agent whose brilliant career ended after conflict with US Senator Calvin Baynard (played by Chelcie Ross). Hallenbeck is now forced to work sleaziest and lowest-paid jobs in order to support his increasingly estranged family as well as his own developing gambling and boozing habits. His latest customer is Cory (played by Hale Berry), striper and part-time prostitute who hires his services of bodyguard. Soon after that she is gunned down by professional assassins and Hallenbeck starts investigating her murder, reluctantly taking Cory's boyfriend Jimmy Dix (played by Damon Wayans), former star of L.A. Stallions pro football team who was kicked out of the League because of the gambling and substance abuse. Hallenbeck and Dix soon reveal the reason for Cory's murder - tape that connects L.A. Stallions' owner Sheldon "Shelly" Marcone (played by Noble Willingham) with huge corruption/gambling scheme. Before they are able to present the tape to the authorities, they become targets of assassins and must use all their skills and abilities in order to evade ruthless and murderous goons.

THE LAST BOY SCOUT is one of the more obscure titles in Bruce Willis' filmography and there are two major reasons for that. First of all, many critics saw this film as nothing more than Shane Black's lame attempt to repeat his winning formula of LETHAL WEAPON. There are some similarities between two scripts - both employ racially mixed pair of protagonists who start as complete losers and hate each other's guts before joining forces and becoming best friends during their ordeal. But, there are also many differences -the contrast between Hallenbeck/Willis and Dix/Wayans is never as sharp as the contrast between Riggs/Gibson and Murtaugh/Glover in LETHAL WEAPON. This script is much tighter and action-oriented. Despite clearly miserable state in which protagonist begin or elegiac sounds of Michael Kamen's score, the general tone of the film is more light-hearted. This is due to extremely effective dialogues (probably the best in their class before Tarantino era) that provide laughs almost any second of the film and the enormous amount of graphic and almost larpourlartist violence that won't allow audience to take this film seriously.

Another reason why THE LAST BOY SCOUT failed to leave much of the impact during its premiere could be found in changing social climate of early 1990s. Female characters being less than saintly or women in general being described in every derogatory term imaginable by protagonists - that was more than simple anachronistic aberration in the era of Political Correctness running amok. It was unforgivable crime that brought stigma of misogyny to the entire film. The only major exception in Shane Black's script - character of Hallenbeck's rebellious trash-talking 13-year old daughter Darian (brilliantly played by Danielle Harris) - created another set of controversy due to scenes in which she helps dynamic duo and thus becomes participant of the events that no child should ever take part of.

Controversial or not, THE LAST BOY SCOUT is very entertaining film that brought many great talents. Tony Scott as the director did more than adequate job for someone with "talentless hack" reputation and proved that he can make outstanding work with outstanding scripts (same as with Tarantino's script for TRUE ROMANCE two years later). But, regardless of the spectacular and memorable action scenes (including the opening, one of the most shocking in the history of cinema), people who remember and enjoy THE LAST BOY SCOUT do it because of the actors. And this film had really great cast. Willis here does something more than to reprise his John McLane role of DIE HARD - his Joe Hallenbeck is less perfect, more human and therefore more sympathetic to the audience. Black comedian Damon Wayans is also very good and avoids the danger of being second fiddle to Willis. Both of them are, however, overshadowed by the small but very talented group of character actors - Badja Djola, Jack Kehler, Kim Coates - who embodied some of the most memorable villains in the history of cinema. Many of them appear briefly but they leave long lasting impression to the audience. But few of them are as effective as Noble Willingham as arrogant sports tycoon or Taylor Negron as his chillingly soft-spoken and sadistic sidekick Milo.

Often referenced as "guilty pleasure", THE LAST BOY SCOUT is a movie that would also deserve epithet of "hidden gem".

Copyright 2002 Dragan Antulov

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