Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Last Boy Scout

Every so often a film comes along that manages to cram every criteria of a genre into bloated whole, but even rarer are the ones that do so and manage to be utterly surprising. Perhaps the best example of this is Tony Scott's buddy-cop extravaganza The Last Boy Scout. Even though it tackles the range of buddy clichés in a way that is in no way subversive, the off-the-wall mash-up of explosions and bad puns keep you rooted in your seat.

The film opens with a moment of stunning violence, and not the kind that pumps up an audience. A star quarterback gets a call telling him he better win, so he takes some PCP and takes to the field, only to shoot members of the other team and finally himself. Not exactly a thrilling start.

We then meet our hero. Bruce Willis, channeling all of that Die Hard everyman charm, plays Joe Hallenback, a drunken louse of a man who seems at his wit's end. The most ironic aspect of the film, Willis uses Joe as a commentary for the fallout of Willis' then recent flop Hudson Hawk; Joe used to be at the top of his game, but now sleeps in his clothes and walks around unshaven and unkempt. His wife sleeps with his best friend, which sends the personal stories of the characters into a tailspin at the start.

Then the cars start exploding. If you take only one thing away from this film, it's to never drive a car, because all of them are rigged with C-4. Every last one. No wonder the American auto industry failed; they're installing bombs in their vehicles. The first kills Joe's friend before they can remotely work out their problems, and somehow launches Joe into a plot involving sports corruption.

Along the way, Joe meets Jimmy Dix, a disgraced ex-footballer whose meteoric rise was cut short by gambling and drug charges. Dix is played by Damon Wayans, who surprisingly downplays his clownish side and actually plays straight man to Willis' Joe. As with just about all buddy cop films in which one of the buddies is not an officer, we get little reason as to why the cop would put a civilian into constant jeopardy.

From what I can gather of the scattershot and utterly unbelievable plot, the Los Angeles football team manager, Marcone (Noble Willingham), is bribing a corrupt senator to legalize sports gambling to rejuvenate the sagging NFL. Jimmy somehow got involved with all this because his girlfriend found out and tried to blackmail Marcone into getting Jimmy back on the field. It sounds simple, but the mind wanders when the 8th car explodes for no reason.

When you think about it, this is Tony Scott and Shane Black's attempt to make the 80s American version of James Bond. Joe seems like a normal bloke, but early on in the film we learn not only that he was a Secret Service agent but that he saved the President's life. I'm really struggling to think of something that's made me laugh harder. Joe has no gadgets, but otherwise he operates just like Bond: apart from them both being agents at some point, Joe also speaks in terrible puns and must foil a ridiculous plan. He fights wave after wave of killers who get him in the crosshairs only to start spouting monologues, giving Joe the time to outwit them.

It all culminates in a supremely over-the-top showdown in a stadium in the middle of a game. The place is packed with fans, who cheer at the battle instead of fleeing like sensible people. But this is not a sensible movie, and it's only fitting that this grab-bag of explosions and pieced-together plot would end to the roar of an approving mob. In that sense Scott and Black show a keen self-awareness; though they do not subvert any of their clichés and use only the slightest hints of irony, they know how ridiculous the film is.

Unfortunately, I could not lose myself into this OTT spectacle because of its rampant and shocking misogyny. I'm not one to place women on a pedestal away from harm (because any fool could tell you that relegating women to the sidelines was the problem for decades), but treating every. single. woman in the film as something to be used and discarded crosses a number of personal boundaries. Even Joe's young daughter gets led around the place at gunpoint for most of the film. It doesn't serve the plot and seems there only to get laughs out of the macho target audience.

Therefore, I cannot really recommend the film as a classic. However, I can't fully pan the film because it's extremely well-made and doesn't take itself seriously. Willis' lines, though corny as all get-out, are frequently funny, and the action scenes make up for their more street-level scope with a gloriously over-the-top plot behind them. Sure, there's only one or two big shootouts, but even the small stuff seems significant when cars blow up all over the place. So how do I rate it? I did enjoy the film quite a lot despite its sexism, and though I never want to see it again for that reason, I'm sure people could glean at least some entertainment out of the film. So I guess I sit in the middle of the film, too pretentious and (I'm sure some will say) P.C. to lose myself fully, but thrill-seeking enough to not hate it for its darker depictions.

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