'Last Boy Scout' brazenly sports a badge of greed and stupidity

December 13, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"The Last Boy Scout" is full of sound and fury, signifying cash.An overblown, thoroughly ridiculous thriller, the movie has been tricked and teased and so injected with "business" and "entertainment value" that it almost defies you not to like it. It's difficult to resist, but if you like it too much, it'll take your soul. It is, alas, what the movies have become.

Bruce Willis, smirky and bewhiskered and in clothes so dumpy they're cool, plays an ex-Secret Service agent named Joe

Hallenbeck, fired in the back story for completely bogus reasons punched out a senator who was beating a prostitute). He has now fallen on hard times -- he's a scraggy L.A. private detective. Here's Hollywood's idea of "hard times": He still lives in a house overlooking the Pacific.

He's hired by a beautiful exotic dancer as bodyguard; not a good choice on her part, as, three minutes later or so, four men pump her full of machine gun bullets. This also ticks off her boyfriend Jimmy (Damon Wayans), an ex-pro quarterback who also has a back story: He was hounded out of the league on bogus gambling charges. After the de rigueur spatting, Wayans and Willis settle down to do some real spatting, and, completely incidentally, to find out what's behind her death.

And that turns out to be a conspiracy by an avuncular pro football team owner (Noble Willingham) to make sports gambling legal in order to revitalize flagging public interest in the game. The filmmakers think interest in pro football is flagging? Where did they do their market research, Baltimore?

Now you must understand one further thing: None of this makes any sense at all. The movie just flies brainlessly from one preposterous action sequence to another. In some sense, the movie isn't about its story at all.

It's about "business." Not business -- the practice of commerce -- but "business": the invention of a subtext of highly ritualized macho needling between he-men who issue five quips for every shot they fire and they fire a lot of shots. It's as if the Alice and Ralph Kramden of the mid-'50s have been transmogrified into Smith & Wesson-toting bruisers for the '90s. As they shoot and reload, or take punches in the mouth and spit out some teeth, they take turns threatening to send each other to the moon one of these days. They shoot loudly and carry a big shtick.

Willis and Wayans work together so nicely you suspect they actually like each other. Their chatter, of course, is modeled on a similar litany of bitching in the "Lethal Weapons" films, the first of which was also written by the Shane Black responsible for this. Black is very good at "business": as a comedy of nastiness, "The Last Boy Scout" is continually amusing.

But it is also, being a high pagan document, loaded with barbarities. One of the subtexts, for example, is the testy relationship between Hallenbeck and his 12-year-old daughter (Danielle Harris). Swell, fine, but . . . does that mean that Black abetted by director Tony Scott have to thrust this poor kid into the middle of two very violent gunfights and one very dangerous car chase? In fact, it's actually somewhat indecent the way they keeps bending the preposterous story line to keep her in peril.

"The Last Boy Scout" definitely earns the merit badge in greed and stupidity.

'The Last Boy Scout'

Starring Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans.

Directed by Tony Scott.

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R.

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