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Blogvent Day 3 – The Last Boy Scout (1991,USA)

03/12/2011

Director: Tony Scott    Starring: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Chelsea Field, Chelcie Ross, Halle Berry

Tenuous – adj. Having little substance, flimsy. Such is the connection the Joel Silver produced, Shane Black penned early nineties action romp The Last Boy Scout has with Christmas. That said, thanks to a single throwaway device the evidence exists that the events that transpire in Tony Scott’s ode to the eighties action buddy movie take place around the festive season and that, ladies and gentlemen, is more than sufficient for inclusion in my Blogvent adventures. Granted, I had hoped to resort to it much later in the series but technical issues with my intended number three film have forced my hand a little early. Besides, it’s the perfect excuse to revisit a massively underrated and horribly overlooked classic of the genre.

Burned out Private Investigator Joe Hallenbeck (Willis) is a far cry from the man who once saved the President during his Secret Service days but when the girl he is hired to protect from the unwanted attentions of “some weirdo” who won’t leave her alone gets murdered, he finds himself embroiled in much more than he bargained for and, with the help of disgraced former professional footballer Jimmy Dix (Wayans), has to get to the bottom of things not just for his professional satisfaction, but for his very survival as his simple protection job quickly turns into a conspiracy that leads to people in very high places.

I know, I know, not very Christmassy. If anything it could be argued that the film is an anti-Christmas movie, a testament to the fact that for some people Christmas doesn’t mean that much, life goes on, families don’t always get on and bad guys don’t take the holiday season off from their nefarious activities. Of course there’s always the point that the singular chrimbo reference is perhaps a nod to Shane Black’s most famous film, the superb Lethal Weapon (which may or may not be making an appearance later in the month) and certainly it’s self parodying style, tongue in cheek delivery of genre staples and rapid fire one liners serve as a fitting tribute to the rest of Black’s work. As Joe himself says, “Now, this being the nineties, you can’t just walk up to a guy and smack him in the face, you gotta say something cool first.”

It’s really down to the ridiculous volume of wise ass one liners and gallows humour that the film succeeds. The plot is a little bit overblown, perforated with numerous holes and overly elaborate in a more than slightly preposterous way. None of that matters. It’s very much aware of all of these facts and chooses to proceed as if none of it matters, focusing instead on the interplay between Hallenbeck and Dix and the smart mouths that they use to extricate themselves from trouble. Otherwise, the film comes across as Chandler for the MTV generation, Hallenbeck the hapless gumshoe who spends most of his time getting punched, pistol whipped and held at gunpoint as he gets drawn deeper and deeper into the conspiracy.

Performance wise, Willis is on top form as the rugged, gun toting, wise cracking hero he made his reputation with although Wayans is a bit of a weak partner to his routine. It’s sadly not up to the standard of the chemistry between Riggs and Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon series but in context it works and both men are portraying characters who have fallen from grace, latching on to one another in mutual self pity before fighting back to earn some self respect. Nobody here is in any danger of winning any awards but it really doesn’t matter, all that matters is that it’s a bundle of fun. Sure, it’s a blustery action romp but it’s got sufficient heart and flair to still make for an interesting watch.

The film serves as further proof to me that Tony Scott is a master of the spirited action movie, as if True Romance and the superb Man On Fire weren’t evidence enough. It checks all the boxes as far as the genre is concerned but it has something extra, an intelligence that escapes the Bruckheimers and Bays of this world that ultimately makes it more satisfying than anything the Hollywood machine is churning out today. As flimsy as its festive credentials may be, you could do a lot worse this December.

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