While Bruce Willis has made better movies, Last Man Standing and The Last Boy Scout both have their rightful place in his filmography. Are they classics? Maybe not, but they're a lot of good fun and plenty entertaining so long as you go into them with the right mindset and keep your expectations in check. Don't take things too seriously and you can get a lot of enjoyment out of the two films that Warner Brothers has slapped together on this single sided 50GB Blu-ray disc. Here's a look...
Last Man Standing:
The first film on this double feature disc was made by director Walter Hill in the same mold as Kurosawa's Yojimbo and Leone's A Fistful Of Dollars, borrowing from Dashiell Hammett's novel and playing with the double crossing conspiracy plot to reasonable effect.
The picture in 1920s Texas where prohibition is in full swing where we meet a man named 'John Smith' (Bruce Willis) who is laying low and hiding out in a small town called Jericho. It isn't long before Smith realizes that this town is run by two gangs of bootleggers, making large profits off of illegal booze. One gang is run by two Italians - Strozzi (Ned Eisenberg) and his cousin Giorgio (Michael Imperioli) - while the second is run by a pair of Irishmen - Doyle (David Patrick Kelly) and his sadistic assistant Hickey (Christopher Walken). When Smith realizes that this power struggle exists, he sees an opportunity to profit by selling his services as a gunman, and so he decides to play the two rival factions off of one another. This comes much to the dismay of the town's sheriff (Bruce Dern) and a local barkeeper (William Sanderson), though eventually Smith's sense of honor starts to set in and he begins to question things...
Like Eastwood's 'Man With No Name' and Mifune's nameless swordsman before him, Willis' John Smith is a man of mysterious background. We never learn what he's running from, what his background is, or where he learned how to be so deadly with his pistols. He simply rolls into town and does his thing as if it were natural to him. Hill's penchant for staging impressive action scenes is in fine form here, as the film has an almost endless barrage of ultra-violent shoot outs to its credit, and plenty of style if not all that much substance to it. If you stop and think about Last Man Standing too much it'll start to unravel - best not to question simple things like why these two gangs are so determined to keep on going in Jericho, where there don't seem to be any actual citizens outside of the gangsters themselves.
So let's not think too hard then and enjoy this one for what it does offer. Willis is good in the lead in so much that he handles himself well in front of the camera and looks cool brandishing a pair of matching .45's much the same way Chow Yun Fat did in his films with John Woo. He's not quite on the same level of cool, but there are moments where he does at least come close. Dern is fine as the sheriff; he's good in parts like this, while Eisenberg and Imperioli seem to be having fun playing the Italians. The scene stealers are David Patrick Kelly (best known as the ultimate slimeball in Hill's classic The Warriors) and Christopher Walken, the later playing a character so completely devilish that we learn he killed his own father and burned down the very orphanage he was sent to. Walken excels playing lunatics, and Hill gives him some good material to work with here.
The film can at times be a pretty grim one, nihilistic in spots even, as it mixes up Bonny And Clyde twenties era gang violence with the Kurosawa/Leone plot devices but it certainly delivers all the action you could want. The film does run into a few pacing problems in that some of the more character driven moments (and there aren't that many - most of the people in this film are very one dimensional) seem to crawl when sandwiched between the operatic violence that Hill offers up. That issue aside, this is a decent gangster film with some fun performances - if it's not a classic or even close to the best thing that Hill or Willis have done, but it's slick, violent, and fairly good entertainment.
The Last Boy Scout:
The second of the two films on this disc finds Bruce Willis playing a former secret service agent named Joe Hallenbach who no longer works for the Feds since coming to blows with a corrupt politician. Since losing that gig, he's been making a living as a private detective but has also fallen pretty hard into a bottle, pushing away those who care for him and wasting his money on booze. If that weren't bad enough, his home life sucks - he knows his wife (Chelsea Field) is fooling around on him behind his back and he's seemingly incapable of relating to his daughter on any sort of mature level. After he meets up with a former football player named Dix (Damon Wayans), his life changes when he takes an assignment protecting a stripper named Cory (Halle Berry) who is sure that someone is out to try and kill her - and not shortly after a successful attempt on her life proves her suspicions to be correct.
Bound and determined to figure out not only who killed Cary but also why, Dix wants to bring Hallenbach on to help him out, but Joe's not all that interested in going down that road. Dix's persistence eventually pays off, and the pair finds themselves in the middle of a ploy involving the corrupt politician who canned Hallenbach and, surprisingly enough, a football league. What a perfect coincidence!
Directed by Tony Scott from a script by Shane Black, The Last Boy Scout is as much a time capsule of the early nineties as it is a fun action movie. The film is chock full of action movie clichés, from the buddy team set up made popular in films like Lethal Weapon to the inevitable scene where Hallenbach's loved ones wind up in danger right down to the predictable nature of the big 'reveal' at the end. It's not hard at all to figure out where this film is going or how it's going to get there and there really isn't much that's original here, as it's pretty much a by the numbers attempt at action movie making. That said, it's fun. It isn't high art but Willis and Wayans make a fun pair together with all of the wisecracking and banter you'd expect from the two placed front and center in the script.
This isn't a film at all concerned with reality - the violence doesn't really have any repercussions and it is a constant in the film. All sorts of things blow up and all sorts of people get shot and there's really no impact to any of it outside of the entertainment factor that's inherent in watching such chaos and carnage unfold. There's nothing wrong with that, The Last Boy Scout is that kind of movie and it makes no claims otherwise. It's frequently over the top and occasionally to a pretty ridiculous extreme, but it's high on entertainment value. It's easy to pick apart the film if you want, there are plot holes and logic gaps aplenty, but none of that really matters - this is big, dumb entertainment meant to be enjoyed as such, the cinematic equivalent of a bucket of original recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken in that it might not be well made or good for you but that won't stop you from enjoying it.
Last Man Standing is presented in a VC-1 encoded 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer that is clean, smooth and generally free of any problems. If you've seen the movie you know that there are some sepia tone effects used as well as a fair bit of soft looking photography employed to give the picture a period feel. This is transferred over to the Blu-ray release so those shots are bound to look a bit soft, and they do. A fine coat of film grain is present and the rare instance of minor print damage, really just specks here and there, do pop up but overall the picture is clean and shows a fair bit better detail, more realistic colors, and stronger back levels than its standard definition counterpart.
The Last Boy Scout is also presented in a VC-1 encoded 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer that doesn't' look as good as the other feature but which is definitely a step up from the film's lousy DVD release from a few years back. Generally the image is sharp and colorful with intermittent softness noticeable from time to time. There's definitely more detail and better texture here than there was on standard definition DVD, and skin tones look more lifelike and natural. There's a little bit of minor print damage to note in the form of the odd speck here and there, but it's not really problematic. Keep in mind that the film was made with a really distinct color scheme and that it tends to run on the hot side of things - lots of oranges and reds and warmer colors are used. The transfer replicates this quite well.
Each film receives a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track in English with optional subtitles offered up in English, French and Spanish. The audio for Last Man Standing sounds decent enough with some impressive surround usage spreading out the effects and the score quite well. Bass response is strong, you'll notice it during the shoot out sequences, while the levels are generally well balanced. Dialogue is easy enough to understand and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to note. While the mix here may not be on the same level as a more modern action film, it does sound quite good.
The Last Boy Scout, which is a little older than the other feature, doesn't sound quite as good. There are no glaring problems with the track, but it's much more front heavy and with far less surround usage to appreciate. Again, it's well balanced and easy enough to understand and there aren't really any audible defects to complain about, but it doesn't have the range and the dynamics you might have hoped for. To be fair, it sounds just fine for what it is, but don't expect this one to wow you all that much.
There are menus and chapter selection options for each film, but nothing else is included on this disc.
While the fact that this release is completely barebones and contains not a single extra feature (no trailers? Really?) is a strike against it, Last Man Standing/The Last Boy Scout is a pretty solid double feature of big studio B-grade action movie goodness, the kind that Willis tends to do really well with. The transfers aren't mind blowing but they are, like the audio, of reasonably decent quality and the films themselves are both pretty entertaining and a fair bit of fun, making this double feature easy to recommend.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.