Kevin: December 7th, 1941, may be a date which will live in infamy, but for action fans December 13th, 1991, is a date which lives in whatever the opposite of infamy is (famy?), as that was the day the Bruce Willis-Damon Wayans masterpiece “The Last Boy Scout” was released into theaters.
I was one of those fortunate to be there opening day, and while I immediately recognized it’s sleazy hard-boiled brilliance, it took a while for the rest of humanity to appreciate that in many ways “The Last Boy Scout” represented the end of an era, in that it took every action trend at the time and cranked them up so high that it was impossible to top it: slick MTV visuals from Tony Scott, smart-assed tough guy dialogue from Shane Black, sax-heavy score from Michael Kamen, white-black buddy pairing, gratuitous violence and nudity, and female characters that run the gamut from bullet-riddled stripper to cheating wife who all but begs her husband to hit her to show that he cares (this movie doesn’t just flunk the Bechdel test, it crumples it up and wipes its ass with it). All of which was overseen by super producer Joel Silver, the inspiration (allegedly!) for Saul Rubinek’s coke-snorting sleazeball producer character in Scott’s follow-up, “True Romance.”
The fact that it’s at least achieved cult status is remarkable considering its famously troubled production, with Black’s script being heavily rewritten and multiple editors brought on to make sense of the insane amount of footage shot by Scott (an issue which plagued “Top Gun” as well). While early workprints of the film have been described as unwatchable, CJ and I actually saw one of these on the big screen at the Alamo Drafthouse, and it looked close to the final film outside of using the “Lethal Weapon” score as a temp track and with a little extra gore on some of the kills. But while a lot could be written about what the movie could have been, what’s important is that the version that finally was released is still the best 80’s action movie that was never actually made in the 1980s. It was probably Roger Ebert who summed it up best when he called it “a superb example of what it is: a glossy, skillful, cynical, smart, utterly corrupt, and vilely misogynistic action thriller.” What else could you possibly want?
Some additional observations and opinions:
1) I freely admit “Die Hard” is the better movie, but I think this is more “fun,” and I actually consider Joe Hallenbeck to be my favorite Bruce Willis character. I would have gladly traded at least three “Die Hards” for one more case for the Joe Hallenbeck-Jimmy Dix detective agency to solve in a sequel.
2) In addition to the bullseye on Shane Black’s back due to his then-record $1.75 million payday for his script, people tend to forget how much the critics were rooting for Bruce to fail as well after reports of his on-set arrogance and meddling during the back-to-back disasters of “Bonfire of the Vanities” and especially “Hudson Hawk.” The fact that Bruce’s career was on the ropes in real life actually gave extra weight to his portrayal of the lovable fuck-up Hallenbeck, especially his opening speech in the mirror: “Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You’re gonna lose. Smile you fuck.” Considering that Hallenbeck is beaten and abused more than any hero outside of a Mel Gibson film, it could almost be read as Bruce atoning for his past cinematic sins.
3) Filed under “Things You Could Not Do Today”: In response to Dix telling him he has a good build for playing football, Hallenbeck asks, “What are you, a fag?” This marks the second Shane Black movie after “Lethal Weapon” in which the hero casually tosses off homophobic slurs.
4) Also in case you were unaware this was a Shane Black movie, at the end when Hallenbeck tells his wife, “Fuck you Sarah, you’re a lying bitch, and if there weren’t cops here I’d spit in your face,” it’s meant as a touching declaration of love.
5) Although this is the only Shane Black movie not explicitly set during Christmas, since it takes place apparently late in the football season I think that’s close enough in my book.
6) It also apparently takes place in a world in which free agency has “ruined” the game, although in real life Reggie White did not become the first NFL free agent until 1993.
7) In the “game of his life” that Dix references when discussing his dead wife, he says he threw for 300 yards, which I didn’t find all that impressive since I grew up watching Warren Moon do that on a regular basis.
8) Favorite Damon Wayans line: “Think Jimmy, think. What would Joe do? He’d shoot everybody and smoke some cigarettes.” Second favorite: “Shit, we’re being beat up by the inventor of Scrabble.”
9) I don’t know if it’s racist that Jimmy Dix apparently doesn’t know how to spell the word “bomb,” but his alma mater should be deeply embarrassed.
10) While Shane Black says his original script was better than the final movie, from what I’ve read I’m kind of glad a lot of his original 166-page (!) draft got the boot. For instance, the henchman character Milo was also a director of snuff films who murders entire families and tries to kill Joe’s wife with a chainsaw in one of his films at the end. Fun!
11) Speaking of Milo, can we talk about what an unexpectedly awesome bad guy performance Taylor Negron turned in? That Negron at the time was a stand-up comic best known for “Punchline” and as the pizza delivery guy in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” made him one of the last people you would expect to be facing off against Bruce Willis in the kind of henchman role that usually went to Dolph Lundgren-type musclemen. Although some critics complained that he was an offensive caricature, the fact that the openly gay Negron wasn’t afraid to make Milo somewhat fey as well as sinister (“Yes officer I’m afraid there is a problem, it appears there are too many bullets in this gun”) made him even more of a wild card, and he’s the only character in the movie that intimidates the otherwise smartass and cool-as-a-cucumber Hallenbeck. He even appears out of nowhere at just the right time, literally shocking Hallenbeck and the audience after a long action-less stretch of character development, and kickstarting the breakneck second half.
12) Finally, since at one point Bruce’s daughter is shown watching the scene where Mel is electrocuted in “Lethal Weapon,” you know what that means: Bonus Al Leong!
So what say the rest of you? When did you first see “Last Boy Scout”? Where do you rank it among action movies, Bruce Willis movies, or Shane Black movies? What other cases would you have liked to see the Hallenbeck-Dix detective agency solve? And of the two movies that opened the weekend of December 13th, 1991 – “Hook” and “Last Boy Scout” – which would you be more comfortable showing your child in the future?
Mike: My father was remarkably free-spirited with his video rentals and had absolutely no qualms at all showing his small and impressionable children graphic violence and nudity. I recall one night in 1988 he rented a family comedy known as “RoboCop,” which we immediately screened in our living room. I was seven at the time and my father was a policeman, so to say that movie was traumatizing is an understatement, but I loved it just the same! I’m almost positive I saw “The Last Boy Scout” under similar circumstances. Having rewatched it again, here are my thoughts:
1) A tip of the hat to Tony Scott, as he did an excellent job of creating a real feeling of comedic dread in every scene. There seems to always be something life-threatening happening. The modern day (for the time) Gordon Willis-type cinematography really contributed to this as well. The lighting is so dark, I love it. The locker room in the beginning and the spaceship from “Alien” are identical. I was waiting for the Alien queen to break through the ceiling and devour Billy Cole. (We should point out that Tony’s brother Ridley actually directed “Alien”)
2) Billy Cole gets a phone call from Milo threatening to kill him unless he starts to score some touchdowns. Thirty seconds later Shelley Marcone, the owner of the team, tells a reporter that Billy Cole is having “the game of his life out there!” The guy is having a game that is so good the owner of the team is talking to a reporter about it during halftime! So what gives? Exactly what is the point spread here?
3) In the beginning I thought Joe’s office was his home, because he’s got couches, a fish tank, a kitchen, and, you know, it’s a HOUSE! What kind of an office looks like a house and has a refrigerator fully stocked with beer in it? I don’t know if you guys caught this, but Joe Hallenbeck has an old-timey private detective door on the front door of his house/office as well. Speaking of which, his wife must have a great job, because Joe’s actual home is also pretty damn nice for a guy who is willing to get constantly shot at for the chance of earning 500 bucks.
4) When Joe gets home we immediately learn just how good of a detective he is because he sees that the toilet seat is up and there is steam on the bathroom mirror even though his wife’s hair is dry. I would have preferred it if the scene went like this:
Joe: “Why does it smell like balls in here?”
Sarah Hallenbeck: “Those are your own balls you’re smelling. You failure! You drunk! You loser! ”
Joe: “I KNOW WHAT MY OWN BALLS SMELL LIKE AND THESE AIN’T THEM! THIS SMELL IS WAY TANGIER!”
(Joe throws an ashtray through the one window left in the house that’s not already broken. Joe then draws his Smith & Wesson snub-nose and fires it at the ashtray as it falls to the lawn.)
Sarah: “Jesus Christ Joe! You’re going to wake the neighbors.”
Mike Matthews (Bruce McGill, inside the closet) (O.S.): “We already woke them up with all the ass play!”
Joe’s head jerks to the side, but Sarah is quick to cover.
Sarah: “You’re hearing things again Joe! Time to go back to your shrink!”
6) Did any of you find it odd that Joe’s partner Mike calls him at the office and finds out that Joe is home a day early and still sticks around to bone his wife? Not only does he fuck her, but he sticks around to shower up! This Mike is some amazing detective. He couldn’t piece together the clues that Joe might be returning home at any moment to change his clothes after a long trip to Las Vegas?!
6) Joe discharges a firearm inside his home when he shoots his own wedding photo. No one cares. No police show up, nothing. Moments later Mike’s car explodes in front of his house and police swarm the scene, but at no point do any of them receive a report that prior to the bombing there was gunfire? L.A.’s finest!
7) So the thugs in the beginning are ordered not to kill Hallenbeck in the alley behind the club, but they can bust out the automatic weapons to riddle a stripper with bullets one block away from the club?
8) When Hallenbeck and Jimmy leave the police station after Cory is killed, Hallenbeck tells Dix that he’s off the case. By the time the two reach the parking lot, Hallenbeck is back on the case and wants to swing by Cory’s house and check it out.
9) Cory must have been the smartest stripper of all time. She’s very tech savvy, she’s capable of breaching all of Marcone’s security to take tasteful black-and-white photographs to blackmail him with. Also, she’s tapping his phone! It’s a wonder she still had to show her tits six nights a week!
10) Hallenbeck is some kind of a genius because he knew that the Scrabble guy’s henchman would opt to shoot the trunk of his car to open it instead of just prying it open or getting the keys. Shooting is always the best move. It’s quiet and discrete, draws no attention whatsoever. Kudos for Joe and Jimmy diving a whole four feet to avoid the explosive effects of what looked to be an entire pound of C-4 going off.
11) I miss movies where the good guys drink, smoke, use racial slurs, make fun of gays, make fun of women, make fun of themselves, and don’t apologize for any of it and don’t want to change and won’t ever.
12) “The Last Boy Scout” is probably the most badass title for a movie of all time.
13) They throw Jimmy Dix off a bridge, he plummets about 40 feet until the hood of a car breaks his fall, and he lives. Okay! I hope if I ever fall off something really high I get to land on something nice and soft, like a Cadillac.
14) Taylor Negron doesn’t show up for the entire first hour of the movie, then he immediately takes over and is great. He’s like an evil Balki Bartokomous, only with a dick.
15) Hallenbeck gets knocked unconscious at least four times in this movie and is blown up twice. He should be suffering from numerous cranial fractures and brain hemorrhages, but that’s nothing a pack of Marlboro Reds won’t cure!
16) When I was a child I was convinced someone could kill me by punching me in the nose and driving the cartilage into my brain. I’m still worried it will happen!
17) I stopped writing at the 1-hour mark because I was too into it. I love this movie!
18) After Milo’s car lands in the pool, Hallenbeck uses his gun to open the trunk, which is surprising because that trunk could have been rigged with C-4 just like the one he rigged with C-4, especially since they were just passing around a suitcase full of C-4.
19) I’m sure the senator’s private bodyguards opening fire on the freeway isn’t going to become news.
20) It was shockingly easy for Hallenbeck and Jimmy to gain access to Marcone’s private office. I guess if you say hi to one security guard at the front of the stadium they’ll allow you to just wander around the whole complex. I wonder how many drunks Marcone had to kick out of his office for pissing into one of his Egyptian urns.
21) After Jimmy throws the “shredder” ammo into the fireplace, Marcone escapes. While Marcone is in the parking lot he notices the briefcase, which he believes is full of money, in the BMW. He decides that shooting out the window is the best way to get this case fast, because firing your gun in a parking lot is a fairly normal occurrence in L.A. in the 1990s.
22) Jimmy throws a perfect spiral from on top of a horse right into the face of Senator Baynard. Million-dollar-arm indeed. Also, we know how much Jimmy likes horses: a) He plays for the L.A. Stallions, b) He says, “I feel like I’ve been rode hard and put away wet,” which he explains to Hallenbeck is a horse reference, c) He drives Cory’s Mustang for most of the movie, and d) His mammoth black horse cock.
23) After that throw, Milo tries to shoot the senator and misses, but instead of trying to shoot him again he rains fire down on Jimmy, who is galloping away on a horse …
24) Joe dances a jig in the rafters, while most likely suffering from massive bleeding due to Milo severing the femoral artery in his leg a few seconds earlier. (We should also point out one of the worst continuity errors in cinema history, as in the very next scene Joe’s leg looks completely normal and he is walking around without any apparent injury. See pic below as well of Joe standing next to Jimmy, who is still sporting a bandage after getting shot in the hand earlier)
25) I have a theory that all of these movies are just beautiful dreams I’m having. They are so surreal. It actually makes all of them way more fun to watch if you look at them that way.
26) Marcone’s house blows up, probably killing his cleaning lady, a private chef, and both his dogs, and this is hilarious to everyone!
27) Joe and Jimmy walk off into the distance just like Bogart and Claude Raines at the end of “Casablanca.”
Kevin: Mike, I’m glad you mentioned a couple of things that always bothered me about the beginning of this: 1) Which is it, if Billy Cole is having “the game of his life” then why does he need to get calls at halftime basically telling him to start scoring or he’s dead meat?
2) And yeah, Mike calls Joe’s office thinking he’s still out of town, and upon discovering that Joe is back in town and probably no more than 15 minutes from his house, he promptly…takes his sweet time at Joe’s place taking a shower, possibly making breakfast, and watching the “Today Show”? I think Joe said on the phone he was gonna run some errands, but damn Mike sure doesn’t sweat the details apparently.
Anthony: I am currently knee deep in rum and pork during a great vacation in Costa Rica, so no way I can catch up with “Last Boy Scout” with this Internet. I do have an observation about the movie poster though:
Our boy Bruce gets top billing of course, with a cute little .357. Finger off the trigger, safety first of course, before he shoots up his place to scare his cheating old lady. While Damon gets… a football?
Are we saying he’s not to be trusted with a gun, or that because he’s an athlete he’s as dangerous with a pigskin as Bruce is with a gun? “Whoa look out for that mad black guy over there, he’s got a ball and he knows how to use it!”
Apparently they also decided to show Damon beat all to hell, while Bruce is untouched even though we know they both get pummeled like rag dolls in this movie. I guess Damon’s agent didn’t have the pull Bruce’s did in demanding a clean poster face, which we all know is reserved for the Hollywood elite.
Kevin: Looking at that poster, I think the simple tagline “The goal is to survive” is all they needed, not sure why they had to include that long-ass “They’re two fallen heroes up against a gambling syndicate…” description up top. Was any red-blooded heterosexual dude in line at the theater in December 1991 looking at the poster and thinking, “Huh, Bruce has a gun, Damon Wayans has a football, there appears to be an explosion in the background, but I’m not buying a ticket unless I read an unnecessarily detailed description of the movie within the poster”?
CJ: I think one of the most interesting things about this movie is how the two main characters are written. With a lot of “buddy” movies, there seems to be a pretty clear difference between the two.
In “Lethal Weapon,” Riggs is an odd, suicidal loner, while Murtaugh is a family man who is most definitely not interested in suicide; in Michael Bay’s classic “The Rock,” Stanley Goodspeed is a pussy, while Mason likes to dangle FBI agents over skyscrapers and quip about getting pussy; in “48 Hours,” Reggie Hammond is a hilarious convict, while Jack Cates is a hilarious racist. It’s always a fun dynamic that allows the movie to throw in entertaining quips and squabbles between the two heroes. What sets apart “The Last Boy Scout” is that Hallenbeck and Dix are both assholes who seemingly don’t have any friends. In real life these would be two VERY troubled people. But for us? Haha, you boys!
We should also address up front what happens to Joe’s pre-teen daughter Darian. This child:
- Suffers from an adversarial relationship with her father.
- Lives with two parents that seemingly hate each other (or at least run each other down in front of her).
- Possibly watches her mom have an affair with her dad’s best friend, who I’d assume is like an uncle to her.
- Meets her dad’s disgraced hero.
- Gets made fun of by her dad’s disgraced hero as her dad does nothing.
- Witnesses countless murder by both evildoers AND her dad.
- Gets abducted by a disturbed psychopath.
- Sees more gore and death than any child outside of Alyssa Milano in “Commando.”
After all the mental and physical trauma this girl goes through, the only positive association she has is with a puppet. Not only because it’s her toy, but because she actually uses it to save everyone’s life later on. So while I don’t know what case the fellas would be solving in a sequel, it is pretty clear to me that the B storyline would involve Hallenbeck dealing with the fact that Darian has become a Furry.
My third big thing is about Joe Hallenbeck himself. The thinking seems to be that he’s some horribly depressed guy at the start of the movie. Not me though. I think, at first, he’s OK. Not the best job, marriage a little shaky, but nothing out of the ordinary bad. I assume he’s just a little hung over at the start.
Then he finds out his wife would rather fuck Bruce McGill than him.
And then the poor schmuck still takes work from Mike even as Mike is still getting dressed after munching on some Hallenmuff. I don’t know about you guys, but I think I’d need a minute.
Other things I noticed:
- Have you guys listened to the actual words to “Friday Night Football” from the opening credits? It’s mostly just, “Friday night’s a great night for football,” followed by what I assume is improvised lyrics from a guy who doesn’t watch football. He sounds like when you’re just trying to get something over with and don’t want to be there. How else could you explain such blood-pumping lyrics as, “It’s party time in Cleveland tonight,”“The Cats and the Stallions are ready to do it,” “Every seat’s the 50-yard-line,” or “Sit back and relax and let’s get down to it.”?
- During halftime, Billy takes his pills and immediately breathes heavily as if they take INSTANT effect. The only thing better would be if the pill bottle had “STEROIDS!” written across.
- Regarding Billy having the game of his life: right before Marcone points that out, the announcers mention the Stallions are down 17-10. It’s also pouring rain, which usually means not a lot of yards on the ground or in the air, and probably a fair amount of turnovers. Given this, I’m guessing the best-case scenario is that Billy has 27 yards and 1 TD, meaning he sucks. This begs the question, why did Milo put everything on Billy? On the flip side, in pouring rain while on the run, Billy racks up a kill shot, shoulder shot, and knee shot, all without his gun jamming or wasting bullets. THAT is the game of his life, my friends.
- When they blow up Mike’s car, Sarah runs out screaming Joe’s name, but clearly can’t tell the difference between Mike’s car (white) and Joe’s car (brown). Mikey, you asked what Sarah’s job is to afford such a nice house? I don’t know, but definitely not detective.
- When Dix tells Joe he couldn’t protect a warm cup of piss (at the 1:50 mark below, NSFW), he first eats an ice cube before flicking the rest at Joe. I just went and tried to eat an ice cube. First of all, I needed 60 seconds before the horror ended, so I don’t know how Dix kept saying his lines. Second, of all the ways to try and intimidate someone, chewing ice seems like it would just confuse everyone and then they’d call me an asshole.
- Joe proves what kind of a badass he is with the assassin in the alley who is about to execute him. Most heroes try to be clever right before they get you or deliver some over-the-top monologue. Not Joe Hallenbeck. He tells you he fucks your wife and does not deviate. Although he might also be working out some issues from earlier in the day.
- Dix seems to be annoyed by people who recognize who he is, maybe it’s the leather jacket with the giant Stallions name and logo on the back.
- When Dix and Hellenbeck are going through Cory’s apartment, Dix picks up some photos of them, including one of them smiling while at the park. Then he cries. Nothing that has happened up to this point leads me to believe they have happy picnics in the park. If anything, the picture should be of Dix trying to throw a punch at Cory’s dad at Thanksgiving as she is jumping on his back.
- What I appreciate most about Dix’s fashion choices is that I truly couldn’t guess what year this movie takes place.
- The only thing that would have made Milo’s entrance better would have been, after tasing Hallenbeck and dragging his body to his car, he tases the dog they walk past.
- I forgot Kim Coates was in this. Kim Coates is in my top 5 of “people I am terrified to ever meet.” The rest are various clowns and mascots.
- I also fell into the same trap as Mike and stopped writing cause I got way into watching. This movie is fucking awesome.
- Milo remarks that “just once” he’d like to hear Hallenbeck scream in pain. This implies they’ve dueled multiple times over the years, but in reality he’s known him for two hours. Milo is quick to burn.
- Two things about that ending. First, when Dix hits the senator with the football, the senator is watching him the whole time, staring the ball down as it comes right at his face and is still surprised to be hit. Second, Dix had no idea that Milo was going to shoot at that exact moment. That is some of the purest luck ever.
- Everyone is laughing and having a grand time at Joe dancing his jig. However, nine seconds earlier they, along with lots of children, witnessed Milo get diced apart by helicopter blades. That, coupled with Billy’s death, leads me to believe the Stallions are a metaphor for the Raiders. People of California, your state is garbage, please stop moving to Texas.
- As for Mikey’s point about how easy it was to access Marcone’s office, I know exactly how someone can get access to areas they shouldn’t, as I have watched Anthony walk into countless restricted areas and no one says a word. He always explains it the same way: “Act like you belong.” He also takes this approach when he crosses streets in Manhattan without looking as I scream from the sidewalk that cars are going to hit him.
- Even though this is Eddie Griffin’s first credited on-screen role, I still believe more than one person went, “Why do we give a shit about Eddie Griffin?”
Kevin: Yeah Jimmy’s whole thing with the ice cubes is one of the weirdest post-insult moves since Maverick pretended to brush lint off Iceman’s shoulder and Ice responded by chomping his giant white teeth:
Joe proves to be quite adept at puppetry even while concealing a large gun within said puppet. He could be the next Jeff Dunham if he can keep from gunning down his audiences.
Also, I like how we’ve spent roughly 30,000 words discussing this movie and no one has bothered to note this was Halle Berry’s first major role, a sign of what a memorable and unique actress she would prove to be. She also has one of the most obvious body doubles in cinema history during her stripping scene since she decided to save her nudity for an important piece of art called “Swordfish.”
We’ve mentioned some of Jimmy’s best zingers but these are a couple of my favorites from Joe:
Mike: “Joe how long have we been friends?”
Joe: “I’d say roughly til you started banging my wife.”
Jimmy: “Maybe I can take your daughter out, what’s she like?”
Joe: “She’s 13 years old, and if you even look at her funny I’m gonna stick an umbrella up your ass and open it.”
Also forgot this one from Jimmy as they are rushing to the stadium: “I don’t understand you Joe, you wanna save the life of the guy who got you fired, and avenge the death of the guy that fucked your wife.” Forget Bob Dylan, Shane Black should be getting a Nobel Prize for this script alone.
A couple of more points before we wrap up. CJ, you asked how those fans at the climactic game, especially the children, might be affected by seeing an attempted assassination, automatic fire spraying on the field, and a guy turned into pudding by a helicopter rotor. Well they seemed in pretty good spirits considering their star wide receiver gunned down several players and blew his brains out on national TV the week before. Normally I would think an event like that would have more of an impact, but the league, the Stallions players, and the city of Los Angeles seem remarkably unaffected by it. I would at least expect Joe Buck to make some sort of acknowledgement at the start of the next game: “The Stallions come into this match-up at a disadvantage due to the loss of a few key players to injuries as well as top receiver Billy Cole to last week’s fourth-quarter murder-suicide in Cleveland.” All I know is Roger Goodell must watch this movie to remind himself that Mike Vick and Ray Rice are small-time problems by comparison.
Also I kind of feel like Senator Baynard’s penchant for tying hookers up in showers and beating them may catch up to him at some point. If he ever runs for the presidency he better hope Kellyanne Conway can work her magic again.
Well it looks like that wraps it up for this Round Table. I think we’ve proven that “The Last Boy Scout” is a film that stands the test of time, and if you are one of those who considers it a guilty pressure then you should realize you have nothing to feel guilty about. As always we’ll let Bruce have the last word, so play us out of here Bruno: