Holiday Movie Month: "The Last Boy Scout" Review

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A down and out cynical detective (played by Bruce Willis) teams up with a down and out ex-quarterback (played by Damon Wayans) to try and solve a murder.
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Holiday Movie Month: "The Last Boy Scout" Review

Rating: R (graphic violence and very strong language)
Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: December 13, 1991
Directed by: Tony Scott
Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime

In "The Last Boy Scout," Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) is about as down on his luck as one man can possibly get. He used to be in the Secret Service and even saved the President's life, but got kicked out because of backdoor politics beyond his control and is now a private investigator. He used to be madly in love with his wife, Sarah (Chelsea Field), but now she is cheating on him with his best friend. He has a whole other list of problems as well, but he deals with them and tries to move on with his life as best he can.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) is a former NFL quarterback who could have been one of the greats before he got in his own way. He developed an addiction to a prescription painkiller and had a nasty habit of betting on games. He is unceremoniously dumped from the league and has spent the interim feeling sorry for himself and seeking solace in the arms of stripper Cory (Halle Berry). When Cory starts receiving threats, Joe is hired to help, but the assignment takes a dramatic and shocking turn when someone makes good on the threats one day.

This puts Joe and Jimmy directly in each other's orbits as both men struggle to figure out who would want Cory dead. They decide to follow the clues and soon find that a much bigger conspiracy is brewing that includes some top-level NFL officials and politicians. The problem is that the closer they get to the truth, the more trouble and danger they seem to get into. They can't go to the police without solid evidence, so they must use their street smarts and wiles to stay one step ahead of the bad guys and blow the conspiracy up without ending up dead. Nearly every scene has action in it, making the film a good mix of drama and fun.

Three years before "The Last Boy Scout" was release, nobody would have possibly thought that Willis could effectively be the lead in a big-budget action film. Then "Die Hard" came out, and Willis became the most unlikely action movie star this side of Liam Neeson. "The Last Boy Scout" feels like Willis' declarative statement on the matter, as if he is telling audiences that he, his pecs, and that mischievous side stare would be around for quite some time. Just three years into what would be a very long action movie career that's still going strong, he seems to already have the shtick down pat. He knows just the right timing for the one-liners and definitely has the physicality just right. If "Die Hard" gave birth to Bruce Willis as an action star, "The Last Boy Scout" perfected him in a way, allowing him to polish off any remaining rough edges and emerge as the real deal.

Producer Joel Silver has always gotten a lot of slack from movie critics because of the violence in his films. "The Last Boy Scout" is graphic and violent even for today, more than twenty years after its initial theatrical run. For its day, the film actually pushed the limit of what could be shown on screen while still getting a Restricted rating rather than the dreaded NC-17 rating that likely would have made it impossible for the film to earn back its estimated $29 million budget. Silver and director Tony Scott tenderly walked the line and won, creating a film that helped herald in a much more violent spate of action films that became very popular with genre fans in the ensuing years. Some of those later films may have trumped "The Last Boy Scout" when it came to violence or creative kills, but they probably didn't have the sweet touch of veteran director Scott or the macho chemistry of Willis and Wayans.

"The Last Boy Scout" does feel dated in a few places, and not just because of the clothes, which are very much of the period. It has some issues regarding the female characters, most of whom seem shrill and shrewish, which was not uncommon in the action genre during the 1990s. If the audience can look past this flaw, the film is a fun escape ride that doesn't make anyone think too hard to figure out the central mystery. It's more about the action than the whodunit, so viewers should just kick back, take their thinking caps off, and enjoy the pure escapist entertainment of "The Last Boy Scout."

Rating: 3 out of 5