Exploring the legacy of ultimate awesomeness packed in front and behind the camera of The Last Boy Scout

Shane Black is a multi-talented luminary of the action genre, and collected most of his credits as a writer of classics such as the Lethal Weapon movies series, Last Action Hero and The Long Kiss Goodnight. In 1991, Black and the heavyweights of action cinema producer Joel Silver, the late director Tony Scott, and Bruce Willis joined forces to produce The Last Boy Scout. The script Black wrote was the most expensive ever at the time with a value of almost two million USD, and we’ll argue in this article that it was worth every penny!

Ragged private investigator Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) takes a job to protect a nightclub stripper from stalkers. When she gets killed, he reluctantly teams up with her boyfriend and former football star Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) to track down her killers. They uncover a conspiracy involving corrupt politicians and illegal gambling, and a big target is painted on their heads. 

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I’ll admit this doesn’t sound like a story from a two million Dollar script. The plot is simple and moves rather slowly, but the real star of Black’s work are the characters, their dialogues and other more violent interactions. In classic action films cheeky one-liners were just as important as spectacular action sequences. But what Black puts into the mouths of his protagonists are some of the most testosterone-charged and quotable lines ever written into a movie script. 

For the most part, it’s not uplifting humor a la Beverly Hills Cop, but the outpourings of the characters reveal a thoroughly cynical and nihilist attitude towards life and human society. At the same time so many lines are delivered in absurd and sincerely funny ways, creating a unique and slightly weird vibe for the dialogues.

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John McClane was already a character with a somewhat troubled private life, but in The Last Boy Scout Willis’ Hallenbeck has hit the bottom of the barrel. He is burnt out and depressed (and we learn for good reason as the film progresses), a broken man who takes his anger out both on himself and others. A large part of his negative energy is fortunately channeled into the violent disposal of numerous crooks and mobsters. It’s another awesome performance by Willis from what were the best years of his career for action fans.

Damon Wayans is Hallenbeck’s involuntary partner in crime Dix, a professional football player who has fallen from grace and struggles with some inner demons. Wayans and Willis apparently hated each other on set, and part of that antagonism productively spilled over onto their on-screen relationship, especially in the beginning of the film. 

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Despite their ludicrous attitude, both Hallenbeck and Dix are surprisingly well fleshed-out characters. Same goes for Hallenbeck’s wife and daughter who seem to despise him during their first encounters on the screen (also for good reason), and we’re graced with some impressive hateful exchanges between them.

In the bad guy faction, camp and cheese reign supreme. There’s plenty of sweaty villains with mullets and cheap suits who are always eager to pull a gun from their over-sized blazers. Extra credit goes to the cooler-than-cool performance of the late Taylor Negron as master henchman Milo who elegantly introduces himself simply as “I’m the bad guy”.

I’ll be honest, other than Top Gun and Crimson Tide, I’ve never been a huge fan of director Tony Scott’s work, but with The Last Boy Scout he created another gem of his career. The film looks fantastic, both in the action sequences and outside of them. Scott’s Neo-Noir visuals make L.A. an uncomfortable place where it’s either too bright or too dark, and always sweltering and filthy. 

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The film takes a break at around half-time from its depressive stance, and this is when both the mood is lifted up a little and the action really gets going. The action set pieces are not megalomaniacal, with the violence usually being brief and brutal. Every bullet and shotgun blast does a lot of damage, and the camera is always eager to show us the perforated bodies. 

There’s also a couple of nice car chases and crashes, and a thrilling finale in a packed football stadium. The film also teaches us another major action flick rule: Never fight on a ledge if a helicopter is hovering below you! The Last Boy Scout showed us that ultimate awesomeness can be achieved if the concentrated power of giants behind and in front of the screen is harvested. It’s pure entertainment from the first to the last minute, and one of the best buddy actioners to ever see the light of day.

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