It's Friday night in Los Angeles, and that means it's football night, but something happened at this game that was unprecedented in the history of the sport. Everything was going as usual, and the L.A. Stallions' owner, Sheldon Marcone (Noble Willingham) had just given a television interview to the effect that although attendance figures were down interest in football was as high as ever. But then one of the players, running for a touchdown, produced a pistol and shot down a number of his opponents, turning the gun on himself. But what does this to do with slobbish Private Eye Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis)?
That's what we're here to find out in this action movie that may not have had a terrific reputation among those who made it, but has gained a cult following over the years among those who respond to its profane wisecracks and plentiful violent setpieces. The biggest news surrounding it at the time was the fact that screenwriter Shane Black was paid $1.75 million for the script, then a record deal on the strength of his previous action hits such as Lethal Weapon. Yet for reasons best known to the producers, who included action expert Joel Silver, much of this prized item was rewritten, probably to keep costs down in the main.
However, that's not the kind of thing that diverts the average movie watcher wanting something to accompany his beer and pizza on a Friday night, and you could easily sit through this without an inkling of the problems behind the scenes, testament to director Tony Scott's slick handling of the material. The plot concerns corruption in American football and an attempt to generate funds through legalised gambling that a certain senator, Baynard (Chelcie Ross), has the power to stop in its tracks. The connection to Joe is that he used to be Baynard's bodyguard as part of the secret service, but got into a spot of bother when he prevented the senator from beating up a prostitute, thereby losing his job.
There are moves towards making Joe a Raymond Chandler type of leading man, though actually the way this plays out is as more of a Mickey Spillane work, with the detective meting out as much punishment as he receives. That said, he does fall victim to a lot of beatings, but any representation of Joe as an out of shape sap is tempered by the way that Willis is essaying the role of his accustomed superman of action. So by and by, after a lot of self pity for the character to endure thanks to his wife (Chelsea Field) cheating on him and his daughter (Danielle Harris) very vocal about her hatred of him, not to mention his lack of a satisfying occupation and an apparent drinking problem, Hallenbeck begins to rise to the occasion.
But The Last Boy Scout is really a buddy movie, so Joe gets to team up with disgraced football player Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans), whose stripper girlfriend (Halle Berry) Joe was meant to be protecting from mysterious forces, i.e. the machinations of Marcone. He notably fails to do this, but does manage to save Jimmy from accidentally setting off a car bomb, by which time the police are taking an interest (the murder of Joe's associate who was having an affair with his wife didn't help, though Joe didn't kill him). Yet just as the plot is gearing up for some intrigue, the film chooses to spend the middle section wallowing in its two protagonists' miseries as they swap war stories and mope about when what you want to see is them getting back to the quips and the physicality. There are funny lines if you have a coarse sense of humour, but overall this was fairly generic - not unwatchably so, but it lacks sparkle. Music by Michael Kamen.
British-born director Tony Scott was the brother of director Ridley Scott and worked closely with him in their production company for film and television, both having made their names in the advertising business before moving onto glossy features for cinema. He shocked Hollywood by committing suicide by jumping from a bridge in Los Angeles for reasons that were never disclosed.