The Last Boy Scout Established Shane Black as an Action Comedy Baller
By Nick Nadel
The writer of Lethal Weapon scores with this Bruce Willis/Damon Wayans sports action flick.
Bruce Willis has toplined his fair share of entertaining action flicks — but only The Last Boy Scout features a scene where the Die Hard star shoots a guy through a hand puppet. It’s just one of many gloriously over-the-top moments that sprang from the mind of action comedy master Shane Black.
Before he segued into directing his own scripts with films like The Nice Guys and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Black was the “it” Hollywood action screenwriter. He made a huge splash with Lethal Weapon, and scored a record-breaking $1.75 million for his follow-up script, The Last Boy Scout. (That payday was later topped by the $4 mil he took home for the Geena Davis/Samuel L. Jackson actioner The Long Kiss Goodnight.) With super producer Joel Silver (Die Hard) and director Tony Scott (Top Gun) on board, Black’s script about a washed-up Secret Service agent-turned-P.I. (Willis) and an equally washed-up ex-football player (Damon Wayans) who get mixed up in a caper involving sports gambling and a murdered stripper (Halle Berry) looked to be the next action mega-hit.
But by all accounts the production was a disaster, with Willis, Scott, Black and Silver attempting to out testosterone each other at every turn. (Allegedly, Scott would get revenge on Silver via the slimy movie producer character in his next film, the Quentin Tarantino-scripted crime flick True Romance.) Black was forced to heavily rewrite his dark, character-driven screenplay, adding in an action-packed climax at a football stadium that culminates in a bad guy meeting the business end of a helicopter blade. When it was released in 1991, The Last Boy Scout failed to make much of an impression at the box office. The film took on a second life on video, however, and developed a cult following for its raunchy, hardboiled dialogue and non-stop action. (It’s hard not to love a movie that starts with a football player shooting his way towards the end zone.)
For Shane Black fans, The Last Boy Scout includes all of the writer/director’s hallmarks: A loose cannon with an itchy trigger finger paired with a straight-laced guy who’s also secretly a loose cannon? Check. A seedy, sun-dappled Los Angeles setting? Double check. There’s even a smart-mouthed, wiser-than-her-years kid (played by ‘90s TV regular Danielle Harris) dragged along for the gruesome mayhem.
With its twisty plot about two down-on-their-luck guys pulled into a criminal conspiracy, The Last Boy Scout is in the pulp fiction-inspired vein of Black’s scripts for The Nice Guys and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Willis and Wayans have a great time with the quip-laden dialogue (the In Living Color star also gets to show off his Prince impression), while Tony Scott directs the action with his signature kinetic flair. Coming on the heels of the colossal Willis/Silver bomb Hudson Hawk, The Last Boy Scout was a (pardon the football pun) Hail Mary pass for action movie relevancy. For fans of Shane Black’s surefire mix of laughs and blood-drenched action, it’s an underrated gem.