Review for Last Boy Scout & Last Man Standing
This is becoming something of a trend for me. I want one movie on Blu-ray, and I wind up buying two or more, as it’s either cheaper to buy it as part of a collection, or it might be the only way it’s available. Take Last Man Standing for example. I have long wanted to double dip on that DVD, a UK disc which might be the worst release in that format. It’s a letterbox transfer, a compression artefact laden, occasionally pixellated mess of a film that I’ve wanted to bin the minute I watched it. It was only the fact that I’d already thrown out the VHS copy that stopped me from doing so. And the only way to get Last Man Standing on Blu-ray in an English speaking territory is with The Last Boy Scout. When I bought it, it actually worked out cheaper than getting Last Man Standing by itself from Europe. But at least this time, I’m not being wasteful when it comes to the environment (other than the shipping costs), as The Last Man Standing and The Last Boy Scout double feature, offers two films on one BD50 disc, in an eco case with holes cut out to save on plastic.
Now alarm bells may be ringing at this point, as if DVD has taught us anything, it’s that two films onto one disc rarely fit. You can get around 3 hours of SD video onto a dual layer DVD before the compression really becomes obvious, which means that movies have to be on the short side for that to work. But fortunately Blu-ray is a lot bigger than DVD, and not just in terms of numbers, 50GB versus 9.4. You can easily fit four hours of HD video and audio onto a dual layer Blu-ray, and you can even push that some without significant compromise, the compression algorithms and authoring is that much better. I have a few Blu-rays with five hours of HD content on them. So two feature films, both at under two hours ought to look as good as possible on one dual layer Blu-ray, although as you might expect, there are no extra features with this release, just a choice of static menus for each movie.
Introduction: The Last Boy Scout
There’s something sinister going on in the world of American Football, although that wouldn’t be immediately apparent to cynical private detective Joe Hallenbeck. His concerns lie with his best friend Mike, who’s just thrown a job protecting a stripper named Cory his way, and who happens to be sleeping with Joe’s wife. When Mike dies in a car bombing, that tends to focus the attention, although what a stripper needs a bodyguard for isn’t explained. That’s a question Cory’s boyfriend, disgraced former football star Jimmy Dix also has, and their first encounter is less than amiable. But when Cory is murdered in a professional hit, Joe and Jimmy have to work together to uncover the truth.
Picture: The Last Boy Scout
The Last Boy Scout gets a 2.40:1 widescreen transfer in the VC-1 codec. It’s a decent transfer, not overly processed, retaining the filmic experience, and with Tony Scott directing it makes good use of what I call the ‘Miami Filter’, the gradated orange that you see in films like Bad Boys and Top Gun. The image is clear throughout, the film is stable with no noticeable print damage or artefacts, and if there has been DNR applied, it’s with a light touch to reduce, but not eliminate film grain.
Sound: The Last Boy Scout
The sole audio track here is the DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English track, with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The dialogue is mostly clear throughout, the action well presented, although this is mostly a front-focussed affair, with the rears mainly used for a little ambience and to add a sense of space. Michael Kamen provides the score which sounds like the left over bits from Lethal Weapon.
Conclusion: The Last Boy Scout
Lethal Weapon is the operative word here, as not only is the music annoyingly familiar, but the script comes from Lethal Weapon creator Shane Black, and plays in the same buddy action pool, and many of the beats and tropes will be familiar. You have your central protagonists, initially antagonistic towards each other, but who through shared adversity wind up best buds by the end credits. One guy’s a family man, although in this case, the family is suffering from severe dysfunction, while the other guy is nursing a trauma in his past (another wife dead in a car accident), which has driven him off the rails, although this time into drug dependency, not Mad Mel crazy. Even some of the dialogue is interchangeable between the two films.
And you know what? That’s okay with me. The Last Boy Scout is a perfectly serviceable action movie with likeable characters, and some decent, unrestrained action sequences. Bruce Willis’ hard-bitten, cynical private detective is brilliantly grumpy, while the youthful exuberance of Damon Wayan’s ex footballer is a nice contrast. The story is pretty perfunctory, and one of the film’s weaknesses is in the lack of impact of its villains. They probably made the mistake of not casting English. But you do expect the villains to match, and even exceed the heroes when it comes to wit, to eloquence, and charisma, and that doesn’t happen here.
The second weakness is verisimilitude. Bad things happen to people in this film, but there is no weight to it, no significance. The film open with an on-field murder suicide by a football player pressured to deliver results. You hardly hear about it after the fact. Joe’s best friend is murdered, his wife’s secret lover, Jimmy’s girlfriend is murdered, but it seems the characters are hardly affected by the emotional impact, that they have far more important things to do in having an adventure, and engaging in banter.
The Last Boy Scout is then even more of a cartoon, comic book action movie, from an era where all such movies indulged in testosterone fuelled gunplay and explosions. It pushes the envelope a little too far to remain credible, but it is fun to watch while it lasts.
Introduction: Last Man Standing
The story must be legend by now. A nameless drifter wanders into a rundown town. After being insulted by a gang of layabouts, he proceeds to kill them and establish himself as a force to be reckoned with. Enlisting the reluctant aid of a hotel owner, he proceeds to play both sides of a gang war against each other, making as much money as he can from both gangs. He is undone, however by his compassion for a woman kept as a virtual slave by one of the gang bosses. This is only a prelude to the terrible vengeance he will wreak before he drifts out of town again. This much is common to all three versions of the story, but what makes Last Man Standing different to A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo is the setting. For this version, a prohibition setting was chosen, complete with cars, Tommy guns and gangsters. The town is a virtual ghost town somewhere near the Mexico border. The battle is between the Italian mafia and an Irish gang, both heavily into bootlegging.
Picture: Last Man Standing
This is not the best looking Blu-ray ever released, but it might just be the biggest improvement from DVD to Blu-ray I have yet seen. The Last Man Standing DVD was only marginally better than the VHS, so the 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this half of the Blu-ray was always going to impress. Other than a smidge of banding on the fade-in at the start of the movie, there are no compression artefacts visible and no aliasing, and given the dusty locations where this film is set, that’s a significant achievement. The image is clear and sharp throughout, detail levels are much improved (you can see the pinstripes on the mob suits), shadow and contrast is impressive, and you can really appreciate the film’s production and costume design now. The print is nice and stable, and other than a few odd flecks is clean, while if DNR has been applied, it isn’t strong enough to eliminate the grain structure or smooth out skin-tones. Last Man Standing on Blu-ray may as well be a completely different film to that which was released on DVD. Taken objectively, the image on the Blu-ray is a little soft, lacking in the finer details, and not quite delivering the crispness and the pop that you’d expect from a high definition movie.
Sound: Last Man Standing
Just as before, the sole audio option here is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English track with optional English, Spanish and French subtitles. This time the audio is a lot more immersive, putting you into the middle of the action whenever bullets fly, the dusty wind-swept desert location making its arid presence felt, and Ry Cooder’s cool music score driving the story. The dialogue too is mostly clear throughout, although Hickey’s wrecked throat renders some of his pronouncements a little harder to make out. Again it’s a major step-up over the DVD.
Conclusion: Last Man Standing
Last Man Standing is not a good movie. That in no way explains why I have owned this film on VHS, DVD and why I now own it on Blu-ray. I certainly have a soft spot for the Yojimbo story, and love both the Akira Kurosawa original, and the Sergio Leone version in A Fistful of Dollars, both of them genuine film classics. Last Man Standing certainly acknowledges its debt to the former in the credits, but in terms of its visuals, its setting, and its style, it also owes a lot to the Leone movie as well. Shifting the story forward half a century to the era of prohibition, gives it enough of an aesthetic shift, and a tonal shift to warrant its existence. Taken at face value, Last Man Standing is a very watchable, well-directed action movie.
The main criticism I have is with the writing and the performances. Certain aspects of the film work well, certain characters. Certainly the strong and silent drifter “John Smith” is a decent anti-hero, and you’re always going to get a class performance from Christopher Walken, no matter what. Then there’s William Sanderson as the hotel owner, and Bruce Dern as the delightfully cynical sheriff, and you have performances that light up the screen. But against all that, when it comes to the gangs, the Doyles and the Strozzis, you have thin characterisations, poor writing, and a lack of screen presence from any of the gang members (other than Hickey), and especially not the gang leaders. You have clichéd mafia on one side, and you have a limp and petulant leader on the other. The film essentially becomes a turkey-shoot for John Smith, and there’s no emotional weight to any of it.
The capper has to be the voiceover, which in true Blade Runner tradition is wholly unnecessary, and having verbose John Smith narrating the life story of strong and silent John Smith defeats the purpose of the characterisation. I can imagine the studio having the same argument as happened with Blade Runner, not understanding what was going on, and demanding the narration be added in post. Unfortunately, there’s no Director’s Cut to remedy this fact, as I suspect that Last Man Standing might be a better film, or at least feel like a much shorter film, if it did away with the voiceover.
Two films onto one Blu-ray disc do go. But these might not be the two films that you’re looking for. Certainly they aren’t first pick in their particular genres. With The Last Boy Scout, you might as well stick with the Lethal Weapon movies, while Last Man Standing is an inferior remake of A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo. But, the films are watchable enough, and I can well believe having a soft spot for the rather poor Last Man Standing. After it’s a bad film that I enjoy watching, and replacing that hideous DVD it’s a godsend. And The Last Boy Scout is a well-put together and entertaining action flick.