Last Man Standing/The Last Boy Scout (Action Double Feature)
Last Man Standing (1996), The Last Boy Scout (1991)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date: July 13, 2010
As part of their latest wave of "Double Feature" Blu-ray releases, Warner Home Video has paired two Bruce Willis films from the 1990s on one reasonably priced Blu-ray disc. Other than the appearance of Mr. Willis, the films do not have a lot in common aside from heavily stylized cinematography.
The Last Boy Scout (1991 - Geffen/Warner - 105 minutes)***
Directed by: Tony Scott
Starring: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Chelsea Field, Noble Willingham, Taylor Negron, Danielle Harris, Halle Berry, Bruce McGill, Chelcie Ross
In The Last Boy Scout down on his luck former Secret Service Agent and current Detective Joe Hallenbeck (Willis) is offered a personal protection job by Detective Mike Matthews (McGill) guarding a stripper named Cory (Berry). When both Matthews amd Cory wind up dead, Hallenbeck reluctantly teams with Cory's boyfriend Jimmy Dix (Wayans), a disgraced former professional football quarterback to find the killers. The investigation by this odd-couple leads to a conspiracy involving an unscrupulous owner of a football team (Willingham) and a politician with whom Hallenbeck has a prickly history (Ross).
When The Last Boy Scout was released in late 1991, it felt like something of a throwback to 1980s buddy action films, which sounds strange to say given that the decade was only two-years gone at the time. Star Bruce Willis was in the midst of a post-Die Hard 2 career cold-streak including two enormous critical and commercial flops (Hudson Hawk and Bonfire of the Vanities). Director Tony Scott had recently had modest success returning to the familiar by casting Tom Cruise in a racing film, Days of Thunder, that was so similar to their previous succesful collaboration Top Gun that critics were referring to it as "Top Car". In The Last Boy Scout, Scott returns Bruce Willis to the familiar by casting him in the role of a snarky down on his luck detective not too far removed from his John McClain character from the Die Hard films. Throw in a script by Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black, a comic foil for Willis in the form of Damon Wayans, and the production hand of action-meister Joel Silver, and the film would seem to have all of the elements of a clasic 80s-style action movie.
Unfortunately, all of these elements are not assembled in a particularly sensible or ultimately satisfying way. The opening prologue is an example in microcosm. A viscerally shocking event occurs that is unlike anything I have seen committed to film before. It's audacious, visually interesting, more than a little ridiculous, and, in retrospect, unnecessary and barely connected to the rest of the movie. While it was no doubt conceived to start things off with a bang, one gets the sense that its secondary purpose may have been a jab at the NFL which would not have anything to do with the film for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who sees it.
Having established that the whole does not add up to much, there is no denying that on a scene by scene basis, the film has some easy pleasures mixed in with the disorganized assemblage of violence and profanity. Willis, who tends to not get enough credit for making his co-stars look good, and Wayans, who was known to the public at the time exclusively for broadly comic roles, have a decent chemistry which makes it fun to see them annoy each other. Wayans is suprisingly good when playing the straight man to Willis' character, although he is given a few non-serious break-out moments as a nod to audience expectations. Taylor Negron plays the stock sadistic henchman with an enjoyable flair. Finally, the implausible domestic drama in the film's first act between Willis, Chelsea Field, and Bruce McGill is played amusingly well by all.
Last Man Standing (1996 - New Line - 101 Minutes)**
Directed by: Walter Hill
Starring: Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, Christopher Walken, David Patrick Kelly, Karina Lombard, Ned Eisenberg, Alexandra Powers, Michael Imperioli, Ken Jenkins, R.D. Call, Ted Markland, Leslie Mann
In Last Man Standing Bruce Willis plays a skilled gunman who drives into a Mexican border town in Prohibition era West Texas, identifying himself as "John Smith" only when severely pressed to do so. When he learns that the town is controlled by two rival sets of gangsters led by men named Doyle (Kelly) and Strozzi (Eisenberg), he sets up residence in a local hotel run by Joe Monday (Sanderson), and offers his lethal services to the highest bidder. To the surprise of Monday and the town's passive sheriff, Ed Galt (Dern), he has success playing one rival faction off of another for his own personal gain, even when he manages to offend Doyle's top gunman, Hickey (Walken) and Strozzi's mercurial nephew Giorgio (Imperioli). When he intervenes to free Doyle's captive woman, Felina (Lombard), though, a series of swift fatal consequences threatens to tip the balance of power and wipe out all of his leverage.
Walter Hill's updating of Kurosawa's Yojimbo which was previously adapted into Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, is a joyless exercise in stylization. The characters have cars, tommy guns, and wear suits, but everything else in the film is designed to look like a western. Bruce Willis' "John Smith" is played as a taciturn loner, but a pervasive voiceover narration undercuts all of the mystery surrounding his character and his motivations. The narration may be intended to further establish the film's prohibition era by evoking classic detective fiction, but it simply does not work in this context.
Hill populates his film with an outstanding cast, but does not succeed at coaxing their best work out of them. Christopher Walken, David Patrick Kelly, and William Sanderson are, as a rule, always interesting, but in Last Man Standing they almost are not. Actors are allowed to overplay to the point of annoyance (Imperioli) or underplay to the point of barely registering at all (Lombard). The film does manage to deliver three stand-out performances in brief character parts. Leslie Mann is amusingly annoying as a very talkative prostitute, Bruce Dern suggests depths to his hands-off Sheriff beyond the words on the page, and Ken Jenkins is simply all kinds of awesome as a military Captain who has a scene with Willis. Jenkins' character is used to establish a mild and barely necessary plot point, but the scene left me thinking that I would rather watch a movie about his character than any of the main characters in this one.
The extreme visual stylization makes the film beautiful to look at, and the score from Ry Cooder is suitably atmospheric (although it contributes to the aforementioned situation where the film plays more like a western than a gangster film). Unfortunately, the pretty packaging surrounds an empty box, resulting in a failed experiment of a film that falls far short of its cinematic antecedents. Director Walter Hill would scratch his western itch much more effectively in subsequent years when he helmed the pilot for the television series Deadwood (with Sanderson playing a similar, but much better developed, character), and the outstanding mini-series Broken Trail, but this hybrid winds up being neither fish nor fowl.
The Video ****
Both titles are presented in VC-1 encoded 1080p video letterboxed to the films' original 2.4:1 aspect ratios. Both film's also feature highly stylized cinematography that can make it difficult to rate them compared to more conventionally shot films. As much as The Last Boy Scout plays like an 80s hangover buddy action movie, it looks like one, too. Director Tony Scott and cinematographer Ward Russell apply what looks like heavy doses of fogging, gelling, and pushing to create a look that is consistent and appropriate for the material, but a bit more grainy and murky than those used to modern high-definition eye candy may expect. Director Walter Hill and his frequent cinematographer Lloyd Ahern infuse Last Man Standing with a palette tilted towards sepia that makes it looks like everything in the film is covered with a layer of yellow-brown dust. Both films feature lighting set-ups that require careful efforts to render appropriately in video, and the telecine operators earn their pay in both cases, creating a very film-like rendering of the unnatural palettes with a pleasing range of contrast.
The Audio ****
Both films are presented with English DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 tracks. Neither film features a particularly sumptuous score, but the bump in fidelity due to the lossless encoding will still be noticeable to critical listeners. Both films feature very heavily enhanced foley tracks that compliment the stylized visuals and provide plenty of "oomph" to scenes featuring gunfire and explosions. In the particular case of Last Man Standing, there is sufficient dynamic headroom on the track at all appropriate times so that the reports from Bruce Willis' twin handguns and Christopher Walken's everpresent machine gun will blast viewers into the back of their home theaters. Viewers with nearby sleeping children or neighbors should take that as a caution.
No extras are present on this double feature Blu-ray disc.
Both films are encoded on the same side of a dual-layered BD50. The Menu layout is straightforward and allows the viewer to move back and forth between the two features with ease. There is minimal to no implementation of Java features, so the "resume" function of most players should work without issue. One minor layout oddity is that even though the main menu features Last Man Standing on the left and The Last Boy Scout on the right, The Last Boy Scout is the default selection when the disc is first spun-up. It's easy enough to maneuver between the movies via the menus that this is no big deal, but it may initially confuse those used to reading from left to right.
This pairing of two lesser Bruce Willis action films from the 1990s from two directors with very distinct visual styles offers up excellent audio/video quality, zero extras, and reasonable value for fans of one or both films.