RECAP: The Last Boy Scout

The Last Boy Scout (1991): Tony Scott

A bunch of action legends at the heights of their powers coalesced into this huge, troubled production. Let’s look at the film’s chief players and the movies they made in the few years before this one.

Director Tony Scott’s run: Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Days of Thunder. Writer Shane Black: Lethal Weapon, an appearance in Predator, and the script for this movie that earned the highest purchase price in history. Producer Joel Silver: Lethal Weapon, Predator, Die Hard, Road House. Star Bruce Willis: Die Hard and Die Hard 2.

Many big spoons stirring a little pot. How would the movie shake out?

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: A private eye and a disgraced quarterback are forced together to investigate the murder of the quarterback’s girlfriend and to foil the murder of a US senator. 

Hero (5/10)

Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) is the most jaded, self-hating private dick in Los Angeles, perhaps all of California. He’s sleeping off hangovers in the front seat of his car. When he’s awake he’s smoking all the cigarettes in the world and yelling at himself in the mirror. “Everybody hates you,” is his mantra.

All this in a single morning, and before he returns home. Joe greets his wife in the morning, where he tells he that his 13-year-old daughter looks like a raccoon in all the makeup her mother lets her wear. This is before he discovers his wife is cheating on him with his best friend, who later dies when his car explodes outside Joe’s house, and the cops think he did it.

When you have a day like that, “Everybody hates you,” makes more sense. Making Joe’s life worse is the case he takes that unravels throughout The Last Boy Scout. His friend, who was banging his wife, pawned a protection case to Joe. He takes the gig from his two-timing friend because, “Five hundred bucks is five hundred bucks.”

A stripper named Cory (Halle Berry) has some stalker problems, and she wants to get to the bottom of it. She’d rather find the jerk while she’s alive, so she won’t visit the cops about it. Cory dies in a machine gun accident shortly after Joe takes the job. To find the guys who did it he’ll need the aid of Cory’s boyfriend and disgraced Los Angeles Stallions quarterback Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans).

Bruce Willis as Joe Hallenbeck and Damon Wayans as Jimmy Dix. These guys reportedly hated working with each other. That lack of chemistry shows up, but it works because the characters don’t like working together either.

Jimmy and Joe cut swathes through the city with dialogue that crackles with energy, pathos, and self-loathing. Cory got caught in a gambling scheme involving the owner of the aforementioned Stallions, his henchmen, and a senator blocking the legalization of sports gambling.

Jimmy and Joe meet many of these creatures. They are beaten up “by the inventor of Scrabble,” a guy with solid vocabulary. Joe stabs one bad guy in the neck with a broken bottle, and he shoots another in the brain after Jimmy pins him between two cars. Joe literally kills a guy with one punch to the nose.

In better times Joe protected one of California’s senators, the same senator who happens to be blocking the legalization of sports gambling. He lost that job protecting a woman the senator was beating for pleasure. Joe also took a bullet for Jimmy Carter. So people know him. That’s why the owner of the Stallions wants to frame Joe for murdering the same senator.

Wrapped up in all this testosterone, cordite, and C-4 is Joe’s teenage daughter Darian (Danielle Harris). To say father and daughter are at odds is like saying the relationship between France and Germany was “tense” in 1914. Joe and Darian have an absolutely vicious fight mid-movie. Joe’s grounded Darian, and she’s missing the best party of the year and is stuck at home watching Lethal Weapon. Not a bad night, unless you’re 13.

Darian speaks through a puppet sometimes, a smart move because her vocabulary is disgusting. She tells her father that she hates him, that she and Mom think he’s a joke, and that he’s a “fuck up.” Joe responds by throwing a gallon of ice cream into the yard and commanding her to respect him. Their fight is as violent as any other in The Last Boy Scout, a movie that almost had an NC-17 rating.

But the dialogue! So good. “It was an accident, right? You tripped, slipped on the floor and accidentally stuck your dick in my wife.” That’s to Joe’s buddy. “Water is wet; the sky is blue,” is another favorite. When Jimmy asks him, “You don’t believe in love?” Joe answers, “I believe in love. I also believe in cancer.”

These are great lines. And few actors are better at saying lines while looking like shit as Bruce Willis. My only problem is he’s too good at it. You get the sense that Joe is a line-delivery vehicle. When not spitting pearls like those above, he’s getting punched. Nearly ten times in a couple of days he’s absorbing blows. I think he’s called the last Boy Scout because everyone on board new this was the end of the line of crazy action movies. (Except it wasn’t, of course. Probably never will be.)

Villain (2/10)

Sheldon Marcone (Noble Willingham) owns the Los Angeles Stallions of [league name redacted]. Like all football team owners, Marcone is rich, and he wants to get richer. He plans to convince Congress to legalize sports gambling. Gambling will help Marcone make billions–that’s nine zeroes–to help offset the greedy, greedy asshole players who are coming into their own as free agents.

Marcone needs to bribe something called the Senate’s Commission to Investigate Gambling in Professional Sports. He’s got all of them in his pocket save Senator Baynard, and hey, isn’t he the guy who Joe punched out? He sure is. That past animosity will make Joe an excellent suspect in the upcoming murder Marcone has planned.

Most football owners are crooks, some very bad crooks.

Marcone is evil to the core. How do I know? He lives in California and wears a cowboy hat. Also the murders and conspiracies and such. Marcone mostly acts behind the scenes, letting his underlings do his dirty work. That’s smart because when he gets Joe in the same room he contracts a case of Evil Plottism. Symptoms of Evil Plottism include blabbing your evil plans to the hero the first and every chance you get, in full detail.

Marcone comes to a satisfying ending, thinking he got away with everything. The only collateral damage were his certainly villainous German Shepards, another obvious sign of his villainy.

Action/Effects (6/10)

For a Bruce Willis/Shane Black/Tony Scott/Joel Silver movie there’s not as much action in this sucker as you expect. Little pieces here and there, many punches thrown, and some arterial spray on a helicopter make an impression.

The first sequence occurs outside Cory’s strip club. Cory drives home, and Jimmy follows in his car. Joe, who’s supposed to be protecting her, is dealing with a man holding a gun on him.

Cory approaches a stoplight. A car behind her, which has inserted between Cory and Jimmy, taps Cory’s bumper. After the light she pulls over to get out and yell at the driver. The driver gets out, too, and the passenger, and they both draw machine guns and riddle Cory with bullets.

A gun-toting puppet.

Jimmy, caught at the red, screeches through the intersection, dodging heavy fire.

Jimmy parks beside Cory and foolishly exits the vehicle, after saying Cory was foolish for exiting her vehicle. The bad guys shoot at Jimmy, but he’s ready for it and dodges the shots.

Joe, who dispatched his assailant with glass to the neck, runs toward the commotion. He has his gun and the one from the dead man, and both guns are blazing. He kills one bad guy before taking cover beside Cory’s car.

Pinned down, Joe reloads. Jimmy reloads himself into his car. He’s got guts in a gunfight, no doubt. He peels the tires and speeds toward and into one of the gunmen, pinning his legs between two cars. The guy’s upper parts still work, and they shoot everything into Jimmy’s windshield, with Jimmy still in the car. Joe walks up behind the guy and shoots him in the head.

Exceptionally brutal, The Last Boy Scout went for an NC-17 rating but was cut to R. I think that was a mistake. The movie is so nihilistic it demands masochistic violence. Let’s see heads explode and guts dribble down glass. We are watching fantasy-level crime activities–operating in daylight, trying to snipe a sitting senator during a pro football game, a player murdering others on the field, let the gore rain down!

Sidekicks (5/8)

Jimmy Dix was the best quarterback in the [league name redacted] until drugs, mostly painkillers, derailed his career. Kicked out of the league, he’ll “nail anything with a heartbeat.” An early scene shows how well he can throw it, though.

Jimmy attends a party with his ex-teammates. One gross man sits in a hot tub with a woman. He holds her head underwater, and won’t let her up until she blows him. Jimmy dislikes attempted rape, so he clutches a football and slings directly into the puke’s nose, breaking it.

Jimmy gets stuck with Joe thanks to his girlfriend’s involvement with Marcone and his ilk. Cory dies one night, and Jimmy helps kill some of her killers. Jimmy and Joe canvas the town searching for clues, connecting her to Marcone.

During their investigation we learn Jimmy likes $650 pants. He’s a smart guy, with no fear. I guess, if you play in a league in which players murder, literally murder, each other on the field, what danger can a few gangsters pose?

One of cinema’s feistiest teens.

Joe’s daughter Darian is a moody, braces-wearing teenager with more vitriol than any of the actual villains in The Last Boy Scout. We meet her at home, where she’s been grounded and is missing the party of the year. She’s spewing vile at her father, making him angry enough to throw a perfectly good ice cream tub into the yard.

Darian gets all her animus from her father. Of that there is no doubt, though no one says as much. During their fight Darian calls her dad a “fuck up,” and across that line you do not cross. It’s enough to bring the estranged Mrs. Hallenbeck into the fray and order the two to separate corners.

Later Darian inserts herself in the investigation when she follows Jimmy to stakeout Marcone’s house. Darian hitched across Los Angeles to find him. Only someone desperate, insane, or teenaged would do that. Darian checks at least one of those boxes.

When Jimmy and Joe are caught by Milo and are moments from being executed, Darian steps in to save the day. She wanders into the woods and pretends to be a lost child. She gives her puppet to Joe and asks if can make it talk. That’s code, obviously, because she’s hidden a handgun in there. Joe makes the puppet talk…with bullets.

Henchmen (4/8)

Marcone’s chief enforcer is Milo (Taylor Negron). Milo shows up after kidnapping Joe and interrogating him in Marcone’s pool. He’s tasked with framing Joe for the upcoming murder of the senator, and he’s doing a good job of it. Milo has already killed a cop in front of Joe’s home using a gun with Joe’s prints on it.

He drags Joe to the woods and frames him handing money to an assassin pledged to kill the senator. Milo is all set to kill Joe when Darian shows up, starts a shootout, and Joe gets away.

Murders cops in broad daylight.

The car chase ends with Milo’s car upside down in a pool and on fire. Apparently Milo bailed out of the vehicle before it hit the water. A shot shows Milo moving toward the passenger door, possibly leaving by it. I suppose he does, because he wasn’t in the car when Joe shot it up and removed the briefcase of cash concealed in the trunk.

Milo reappears to murder the pool’s owner as the latter talks to the police. He also kidnaps Darian and tells Joe about it. Darian is scared for the first time in the movie, which says much about Milo’s character.

Milo has a streak of orange in his hair, and he’s making it work, folks. Henchmen with streaks of vanity are more dangerous. Such characters do their bosses’ dirty work, and dirty work gets you dirty. When your appearance means much to you, getting dirty can be a problem.

Stunts (4/6)

Instead of fight sequences, Joe absorbs punches. He’s like a heavy bag, in that you can hurt yourself punching him more than hurting him.

A car chase happens in the California hills. Milo has Jimmy and Joe dead to rights in the woods. He’s all set to have them killed when a little girl walks up holding a cat puppet. The girl is Darian, of course, but the bad guys don’t know it. This kid is smart. She begs Joe to play with her puppet. Joe agrees.

“It’s riddle time,” Joe says. “Why did Mr. Milo cross the road? Because his dick was stuck in a chicken.” A little crass for the young ears, Joe, but funny. The guys laugh. The cat puppet laughs, then coughs on a fur ball. And that fur ball is…a bullet!

Darian hid a gun in the puppet and gave it to her dad, who shoots one of the bad guys in the head. Jimmy, wasting no time, elbows one dude and kicks at the shotgun being held by another. The shotgun shoots another bad guy. Jimmy runs with Darian and Joe follows blasting two guns.

Several bad guys still live, and they follow. They’re into cars now. Joe’s car leaps over the hilly road. Two limos pursue, the lead limo with a guy out the window shooting a machine gun. Jimmy, riding shotgun, is tasked with shooting back, though he’s never used a gun before, it seems.

Joe blows through plenty of smokes.

That these guys haven’t been shot yet is another classic case of bad guy incompetence. Joe accidentally runs an oncoming car off the road, sending it flipping down the steep hill in a comical, unnecessary stunt that only makes Joe appear less heroic. Joe orders his passengers to fasten their safety belts, which could be the only time I’ve ever heard a character say that. Great advice that should always be heeded.

The bad guys must be out of bullets because Milo’s car is beside Joe now and no one is shooting from it. They smash together and run off the road. Joe’s car slides straight down the hill. It’s a miracle from the stunt department that the car did not flip, because that hill was STEEP.

Joe’s car crashes through a fence and a gazebo before stopping. Joe, Jimmy, and Darian exit the vehicle safely, thanks to those seat belts. Milo’s car is less lucky. It ramps off a house roof and lands upside down in a pool before bursting into flame.

Joe shoots Milo’s car in the pool and addresses the homeowner, watching a car catch fire in his pool. Joe demands the man’s car.

“Gimme the keys or I shoot the kid,” Joe says as he points a gun at his daughter’s head. Hard to tell if that was a tough parenting moment or a plot to speed along getting a car. Probably both.

Joe threatens to kill his daughter as a bluff. But is it, really?

Another scene has Joe exploding a car by tricking the bad guys. He places a pack of C-4 at the lock mechanism in his trunk, hoping for what will come next. Some punks roll up and demand Joe open his trunk. Joe shows the keys, then throws them in the grass. “Oops,” he says, but we all know it wasn’t an accident. Everyone can see that. Duh.

Also, duh to what happens next. One of the bad guys shoots the lock off the trunk, hoping to open it. Well, it opens, but only after the C-4 explodes and sends the car rolling down a hill. Jimmy and Joe jumped to safety before the car exploded.

Climax (2/6)

Jimmy and Joe reach the LA Coliseum, hoping to prevent the murder of a senator who once fired Joe for punching him in the face. Jimmy has already noticed this, calling Joe the dumbest person he’s ever met, because how else do you describe a man trying to save the life of a person who fired him while avenging the man who slept with his wife?

You could describe him as a Boy Scout, possibly the final or Last Boy Scout? Eh? Anyway, Jimmy and Joe are escorted to Marcone in his office, where the villain tells them his plan to murder the senator while framing Joe.

Thanks to Jimmy’s use of an exploding bullet he throws in a fireplace, they escape the office to roam the stadium.

Marcone leaves his office and the stadium. He reaches his car, parked beside the white BMW Joe used to reach the stadium. Marcone shoots the window to remove the briefcase he thinks contains six million bucks. Except Joe said the cash was in the trunk. We know that’s the case with six million booms!

The heroes search and locate the senator’s luxury box. Joe dismisses his daughter to go find a cop. Smart move, even though Joe is wanted for murder and the subsequent murder of the senator, coming up at halftime! Jimmy is send to attract the senator’s attention.

Damon Wayans ain’t bad in a dramatic role.

Joe fights off some cops to try to reach the skylights. He doesn’t consider that if the senator died while Joe was in custody, the frame job wouldn’t work. But Joe is the last boy scout; he won’t let an innocent man, even one he hates, die.

What’s Jimmy up to? He heads to the field. Remember the man whose nose Jimmy broke in an early scene? He has a handful of cops in tow, carrying shotguns, and eager to arrest Jimmy for pulling a gun on him in the stadium. Jimmy’s left little recourse. He has an eye for the nearby stallion (remember, it’s the team’s mascot), and he leaps onto the horse from behind, probably the best stunt in the movie.

Jimmy rides onto the field and tackles a Stallion player during a play. He demands the ball and rides away. An amazing, impossible sequence commences. Jimmy throws the ball, a perfect spiral, into the senator’s box part way up the stadium. Milo, up in the lights, has the senator in his crosshairs. The football strikes the senator’s head an instant before Milo pulls the trigger. The bullet hits the ball moments after the ball hit the senator’s head. Not after one thousand tries could you pull off such a stunt. That’s the movies for ya.

Milo tries to fix his mistake by shooting at everything with his machine gun. It’s unclear who he’s trying to kill, but it’s not his target. Joe, who has climbed the lights, falls onto Milo, knocking the latter down. Milo still has his gun, and he shoots at Joe standing feet away, but can’t hit him. Joe falls onto a chain link fence and crashes through it. Sparks from the lights are flying.

Milo shoots at the police helicopter that has found his position, killing one cop before he runs out of bullets. Joe has the ammo bag. “Looking for this?” he asks before throwing it away. Milo, enraged, throws the gun at Joe, who catches it. Milo doesn’t need it because he has a knife.

Joe swings the rifle like a bat, and Milo’s face is the ball. Ouch. Milo stabs Joe in the leg. Oucher. Joe reminds Milo that if he ever touched him again he would kill him. He’s about to do that, until the cops standing on the next light fixture riddle Milo’s body with bullets and nearly kill Joe. Milo’s body falls in slow motion, intercut with the retreating helicopter. We are allowed the time to anticipate what will happen. And it does. Yeck. It happens. Milo hits the spinning rotors to turn himself into a smoothie.

Joe celebrates with a dance. “For a dancer he’s one hell of a detective,” Jimmy says. This outlandish ending fits the outlandish rest of the movie.

Jokes (4/4)

The Last Boy Scout opens with as batshit a sports sequence as you’ll ever see. First, the theme song for football. “Friday night is a great night for football” is an actively wretched lyric, worse than anything on actual television, and that’s saying A LOT. One of the lines is, “It’s party time in Cleveland tonight.” It is never party time in Cleveland.

At halftime one of the star players, Billy Cole, gets a call from some very upset gamblers. Cole is supposed to kill it tonight so a few prominent gamblers can get rich quick. A nervous Cole takes the field for the second half and receives the ball on an early play.

The only time an announcer accurately stated that a player was “killing” the other team.

Cole needs a touchdown. He avoids one, two tacklers downfield, but more are coming. Cole resorts to desperate measures. He draws a handgun from his pants and shoots multiple would-be tacklers. He takes a knee after scoring a touchdown, points the gun at his head, says “Ain’t life a bitch?” and pulls the trigger.

This preposterous opening is funny for being so outlandish, and also sets the movie off on the wrong foot. How can you take seriously a plot in which a players murders others on the field over some gambling problems?

***

Joe tells Your Wife’s So Fat jokes. “If you wanna fuck her you gotta slap her thigh and ride the wave in. Now I’m not saying she’s fat, but her high school picture was an aerial photograph.” When a bad guy tells Joe he wants to see him scream in pain, Joe says, “Play some rap music.” He’s not into that “funk shit” either.

There’s enough good lines in The Last Boy Scout it becomes self aware. At the end Joe tells Jimmy it’s the ’90s, you can’t just go up to a guy and slap him anymore. You have to say something cool first.

Setting (2/4)

Los Angeles is again the center of a Joel Silver production. Sound familiar? Jimmy and Joe explore the seedier sides of California when they visit Cory at her strip club.

They also visit Marcone pads, one a Roman-style pool with poolside piano, the other an octagonal office located somewhere inside the stadium. With a bank of monitors and a fireplace, this office could not be more villainous. Oh wait, it could have an aquarium. IT DOES!

Tasteful, soft lighting was all the rage in the late ’80s/early ’90s, and there’s plenty here. Most people seemed to live without light bulbs, utilizing California’s endless natural light, but through closed blinds, casting blue stripes across sets.

Commentary (1/2)

Jimmy delivers a monologue to Joe about why he was kicked out of [league name redacted]. Turns out he played the best game of his career while his wife and son were dying from a traffic accident. To handle the pain (emotional and physical from playing football) he turned to drugs, first prescription and then illegal.

They kicked him out of the league. Watching The Last Boy Scout nearly 30 years later, the similarity to the NFL’s current problems is striking. While Jimmy says nothing about head trauma, the pain of being hit by man missiles on a weekly basis forces players to turn to serious means of coping. It’s a problem no one has solved.

Free agency is a topic of note in the movie. The police and the team owner think the players are greedy for wanting more money. The owner, in the same breath, chides his players for being greedy while explaining his plan to legalize sports gambling so he can make more money. That’s still a problem today, and it’s still disgusting.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

We’re fine here.

Others

  • The movie opens with the opening credits for the fake football game being played in Cleveland. The movie’s real credits comprise the credits of the fake TV show.

Summary (35/68): 51%

The Last Boy Scout was a troubled production of four huge egos battling for control. Much of the last act was supposed to have Joe save his wife and feature a boat chase. If you watched the movie, you’ll note neither of those things happened. When your record-breaking script gets heavily rewritten, you’re going to lose it.

It’s still a fun movie. Its violence and depiction of sports is far over the top, making it a good guilty pleasure movie. Killing Halle Berry so early is a criminal misuse of her talents, despite knowing how young her career was.