Sometimes we drink to forget. It’s been a rough night, we’ve gotten bad news, the job fell through, the loan payments are going up, she’s not going to stay, what have you. You don’t need to just drown your sorrows, you need to stuff stones in their pockets and kick them into the harbor. You need to scour the last vestiges of memory from your brain and salt the earth so they can never return. You need to get completely obliterated. It’s the kind of drunk where you wake up with a hangover only because some of your internal organs are now on the outside, smoking a cigarette and screaming at the downstairs neighbors to shut the fuck up.
Shane Black understands that. He’s literally crafted the mold of the down and out anti-hero. He writes bleak miserable landscapes and fills them with miserable people. He understands that life doesn’t just knock you down because it’s cruel, it squats over you, pisses on your chest and farts in your mouth. It’s not just black comedy or gallows humor. It’s a man staring down the barrel of a shotgun and telling the gun it’s got bad breath. His claim to fame is the first Lethal Weapon, the incredibly good one, which forever forged the template of buddy-action movies. He’s got an impressive resume: The Monster Squad, Last Action Hero, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and the subject of this week’s Hangover Theater, The Last Boy Scout.
The Last Boy Scout hates your stupid ugly face. It’s an action comedy in the most tenuous sense of the term. The jokes come mostly out of witty one-liners directed with absolute malice at the other person. The action involves people getting holes blown in their heads or getting punched in the face. When someone gets hit, they usually spend the next moment muttering threats and monologues while syrupy red drool dribbles from their lips. It’s an ugly movie that developed an acerbic personality, so the cool kids can go fuck themselves.
The opening scene is brilliant. A rainy football game where the visiting team is losing by 7 as real sportscasters like Lyn Swann and Dick Butkus call the game. The star player, Billy Cole (a fucking disturbing looking Billy Blanks), gets a locker room phone call from a creepy dude telling him he better star scoring touchdowns. As the clock winds down on the end of the game, Cole catches a pass and starts knocking players out of his way like a Bronco fleeing Hercules or the LAPD. A defender looms in front of him about to deliver a tackle. He pulls a gun and fucking shoots the guy between the eyes. He guns down two more defenders before taking a knee in the endzone. As the stadium police surround him with shotguns, he removes his helmet, grins at them and sneers, “Ain’t life a bitch?” before blowing off the top of his own head.
Immediately, you know this is going to be a nasty, mean spirited film. Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) is a detective who reeks of cigarettes and failure and a former Secret Service agent fired for punching out a senator’s teeth. His wife (Chelsea Field) is cheating on him with his best friend (Bruce McGill). When Hallenbeck catches them, he takes his friend outside, punches him in the gut, and then takes the case the philanderer offered to him: To help out an exotic dancer named Cory. Bruce McGill climbs into his car, which promptly explodes. This happens a lot in the movie. People explode in cars, or they are in the movie for about two scenes and get killed. I love it when the stakes are raised. When anybody can die at any moment, like the sixth child of an Alaskan governor, it automatically amps the coolness factor four thousand fold.
Hallenbeck finds himself working for Cory (Halle Berry in one of her earliest screen roles), who’s dating former all-star quarterback Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayons) who was kicked out of the league for gambling and drug abuse. Cory is quickly gunned down gangland style by henchgoons sent by Shelly Marcone (Noble Willingham), the owner of the fake football league that Dix used to play for. Hallenbeck and Dix grumpily join forces to get to the bottom of the mess, which basically involves a murder plot to assassinate the senator Hallenbeck so gambling can be legalized in California. Or as Dix puts it, “I figure you gotta be the dumbest guy in the world Joe. You’re trying the save the life of the man who ruined your career, and avenge the death of the guy that fucked your wife.”
The Last Boy Scout was the crossroads for a ton of huge careers. Bruce Willis had just done the first two Die Hards and was riding off the success of “Moonlighting.” Shane Black had just done Lethal Weapon. Damon Wayans was starting to break out on “In Living Color.” And director Tony Scott, who is not the most successful Scott Brother, but I think makes the better films, was just coming off of Days of Thunder and Top Gun. I think the only thing that prevented this movie from cinematic legend was it’s just so fucking dreary and bitter.
Nobody’s a clear-cut good guy in the movie. This is not a belly-laugh movie; it’s a grim chuckler. Still you’ve got some fucking awesome performances. Bruce Willis is the archetype for the shabby investigator, whether he’s running around Nakatomi Plaza in bloody bare feet and a wifebeater or he’s riding a boat down a Pittsburgh river with Mrs. Ed. He’s the kind of guy whose wife cheats on him, who smokes and drinks and curses, who takes a fucking beating and squints and snickers at the fucking asshole doing it. He looks like life took a shit on him, and he’s got a world weary fuck you face. There’s a reason Bruce Willis and Jason Statham have never shared a screen together. The world would implode with bald-badassness like when I look in the mirror every morning.
Damon Wayans is fantastic as Jimmy Dix. You buy him as the action sidekick, a guy whose physical strengths are held to assaulting two people with footballs. He doesn’t suddenly become handy with a gun or develop untapped Tae Bo skills (rest in piece, Billy Blanks). He fucks up more often than he saves the day, and that makes him a smart sidekick. When Wayans tried to go and be the tough guy in the action comedy Bulletproof, it failed because Damon Wayans is a comedian and not someone who will headbutt you until you puke. Even his gargantuan giant of a brother couldn’t pull off action star, but at least he’s good behind the camera.
The bad guys are particularly interesting in this movie, in that you don’t see your typical showdown violent fight sequences in this movie, save for one. Most of the movie involves Bruce Willis at gunpoint, about to die, and suddenly fighting his way free with a bottleneck or a gun hidden in a cat puppet. This is not to say the action sequences aren’t cool, it’s just not your typical high-voltage slugfests like The Transporter. Noble Willingham’s Shelly Marcone is what everyone who isn’t from Texas thinks a Texan is like. He’s a rotund, jovial sleezeball who’s gonna fuck you out of your money with a honey-thick twang and ten gallon hat. Senator Baynard is played by Chelcie Ross, a brilliant motherfucking character actor who’s spent his life being someone you want to punch dead (right up there with Kim Coates who gets his nose ridge jammed into his brain stem in one of the greatest dick-measuring tough guy scenes ever committed to film.) And then, we have Mr. Milo.
Taylor Negron is not somebody who you would find intimidating or even consider for a villain. He’s got that effeminate delivery, like a flamboyant Vincent Price, and those droopy eyes. He’s mostly played pizza delivery guys. But he’s fucking disturbing as Milo. He can’t abide by rudeness and refers to everyone by their proper names, “Joseph” and “James” and “William.” He threatens people quietly, with a switchblade or a taser. He’s not scary so much as creepy, the kind of guy who would probably defile a corpse while it was still dying. When he finally faces down Hallenbeck, it’s a quick fight, with a few kicks and punches and stabs, before he gets one of the greatest final guy finish moves in the history of movies: Dropped onto helicopter blades. (Mini-Diversion: name a better farewell fatality for the last bad guy you’ve seen.)
My favorite part of the movie is Hallenbeck’s daughter, Darien, played by Danielle Harris. First of all, Harris played Jamie Lloyd, Michael Myers’ niece in Halloween 4 and 5. The one where at the end of the movie, the babysitter comes tumbling down the stairs gutted, and you see little Jamie in her clown costume clutching a bloody pair of scissors. She then went on to star in the wretched remake of Halloween belched forth from the gullet of Rob Zombie. Darien is the child of Pajiba. She’s a foul-mouthed little bitch who rages at everyone. She’s twisted and mischievous and so much fun to watch. When I was a teen, my crushes were on Darien Hallenbeck and Matildha from Leon, the Professional. I guess I wanted a girl who’d talk dirty to me and then shoot me in the head. When she first sees Jimmy Dix, she says, “What the hell is that number on the back of your head? What is that, like a license plate in case someone tries to steal it?”
This movie is a crying shame to watch on cable television, watered down for content. It feels like watching Vin Diesel hold his girlfriend’s purse while she tries on shoes. Sure, dollars to donuts it’s probably his purse, but still it’s half the man it used to be. I would recommend going out to Target where I picked up this lovely film for $10 in an action pack with Eraser, The Point of No Return, and Passenger 57 (Always bet on black!). Wolfman’s got nards, indeed. It’s a pleasant way to dry out after a night scouring your brain of whatshername? I don’t even remember why I was pissed anymore. God bless you Jameson. Now that’s a fucking Eraser.
Brian Prisco is a warrior-poet from the valley of North Hollywood, by way of Philadelphia. He wastes most of his life in desk jobs, biding his time until he finally becomes an actor, a writer, or cannon fodder in the inevitable zombie invasion. He can be found shaking his fist and angrily shouting at clouds on his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.
Whiskey You're The Devil
The Last Boy Scout / Brian Prisco
Hangover Theater | September 5, 2008 | Comments ()