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The Last Boy Scout

#707 - The Last Boy Scout
Tony Scott, 1991

A washed-up detective and a disgraced football player reluctantly team up when the detective's partner and the player's girlfriend are brutally murdered.

In my experience, Tony Scott has proved a difficult director to like. Unlike his brother Ridley, he never had an Alien or Blade Runner to make up for his more mediocre films. The closest I'd ever seen him come to greatness was the 1993 crime caper True Romance; even then, that was arguably because the script was written by an up-and-comer by the name of Quentin Tarantino. Otherwise, Tony's work may have varied as much as Ridley's but none of these films did much for me, whether it was the unintentionally comical machismo of Top Gun, the Gothic camp of The Hunger, or the protracted vengeance of Man On Fire. His 1991 outing The Last Boy Scout didn't inspire that much confidence despite the presence of screenwriting auteur Shane Black, especially since the last Black-scripted film I'd seen had been the promising but ultimately underwhelming The Long Kiss Goodnight. Referring to Black as an auteur seems a little generous considering how much that reputation seems to be based on him reusing certain concepts and gimmicks - I'm honestly surprised that this movie didn't take place during Christmas. Be that as it may, The Last Boy Scout proved quite enjoyable despite all that it had going against it.

The plot is vintage Black as it involves a pair of unlikely partners being forced together to uncover a criminal conspiracy - Bruce Willis plays the former Secret Service agent turned private detective who naturally has problems at home (to the point where the film could be considered a stealth sequel to Die Hard) who starts investigating a case after his partner is killed. It involves a stripper (Halle Berry) who ultimately gets murdered, prompting her former football pro boyfriend (Damon Wayans Jr.) to join forces with Willis in his search for both answers and vengeance. Thus begins a film that packs in everything from explosive action to sharp dialogue during its relatively brief running time. A lot of one's tolerance for this movie will come for one's ability to tolerate Black's too-clever-by-half writing, where obvious Chekhov's guns can be easily identified amidst the barbed one-liners and melodramatic monologues. It still builds a decent enough neo-noir where Willis and Wayans Jr. must try to figure out what's going on while also contending with their difficult interpersonal dynamic and constant threats. Willis is definitely solid here, while any reservations I had about Wayans Jr. are easy enough to forget or ignore as he holds his own against Willis in some lovably ludicrous tough-talking exchanges.

Like just about any journeyman director, Scott is at his best when he's got a good story to work off. Black definitely provides in that regard; his framework may be familiar if you've seen just about any of the other movies he's written, but it definitely provides a consistently entertaining mix of snappy buddy comedy and lurid action scenes. The unlikely pairing of Willis and Wayans Jr. has to carry the film and, though it's hardly the greatest of pairings, the duo do have surprisingly decent chemistry. The film as a whole is not without its weaknesses, though - Scott's bombastic high-concept style of filmmaking means that it's easy to appreciate the more garish aspects of the film but doesn't do so well when it comes to capturing genuinely tragic moments. The early-'90s action aesthetic also leaves something to be desired even though it's clear from the gaudy opening credits that the film isn't interested in taking itself too seriously. The Last Boy Scout isn't a classic by any means but it's a reasonably enjoyable little film. It manages to revel in its silliness without becoming tiresome and offers its fair share of memorable moments as it powers through a narrative that may not be the most original but definitely doesn't hit too many lulls.