Last Boy Scout: a seedy detective and a disgraced quarterback team to dodge ambushes, fire off one-liners and bust chops. When the going gets tough, they get together. And funnier. They came to play. And to settle a score in this raging fireball where bigger is better, hits are harder and bad guys end up deader.
Last Man Standing: John Smith, an amoral gunslinger in the days of Prohibition, happens upon Jericho, Texas, which has become a ghost town since two warring gangs have 'driven off all the decent folk.' Smith sees this as an opportunity to play both sides off against each other, earning himself a nice piece of change as a hired gun.
'Last Man Standing' (2.5/5).
Trying to follow up 'Yojimbo' or 'A Fistful of Dollars' is a tough prospect for anyone, but Walter Hill tried his damnedest. 'Last Man Standing' is a violent, well-rendered world that successfully fuses western motifs into those of the bootlegging 1920s gangster films. But for my money, this classic tale of a master-less Samurai -- or here, Bruce Willis as the mysterious gunslinger, John Smith -- who enters a town overrun with two warring gangs, is too cold and distant. It's a movie that feels not quite at home with the story it's trying to tell.
Released in 1996, 'Last Man Standing' was a critical and commercial flop. Playing 14-year Monday morning quarterback, it's not hard to hypothesize why. John Smith is neither able to transcend some mythic figure, nor do we get to know him well enough to truly feel for him, to understand why he makes certain choices. Clearly, as with the originals, leaving decisions to destiny or fate is a big part of who Smith is, which is fine, but with pretty much no one left in a nearly empty town to save from the rival gangsters, I kept wondering what was at stake. Essentially, as a remake or retelling, it felt like the film was going places and enacting scenes based more on what is "supposed to happen" rather than something more organic.
Performances by character actors like Christopher Walken are memorable, and the western locations and production design elements are easy on the eyes, but for an action film, the stunts are a bit tame and Smith's "amazing" pistol talents don't always feel real. Yes, it's great for the hero to shoot everyone without getting hit, but Willis' shooting style didn't appear on film as more accurate than anyone else. In that realm, flicks like 'Equilibrium' have more accurately updated how "swordplay" can cinematically translate into a gunslinger's miraculous marksmanship. I'm glad to have finally seen this film, but it just wasn't for me.
'The Last Boy Scout' (4/5)
For another Bruce Willis-starring, 1990s mash up of classic film genres, enter screenwriter Shane Black ('Lethal Weapon') and director Tony Scott ('Man on Fire,' 'True Romance') with their modern version of the film noir hardboiled private detective tale. Fallen heroes, murdered dames, and corruption within the NFL (uh, I mean "pro football"). Now, this is the Bruce Willis I personally love. The tired, put-upon hero, who only survives setback after setback by cracking wise. And while not all of Black's trademark one-liners stand the test of time, for the most part they're just as razor sharp today as they were when the film was released in 1991. Most importantly, I care because Willis is an imperfect guy trying to be a good dad who's gotten the wrong end of the stick more than once.
Joining Willis on the quest for truth is the murdered dame's boyfriend, played by Damon Wayans, who was previously known more for comedy (anyone else love Homey The Clown???). As a disgraced football star, Wayans does a remarkable job creating a believable character that both deserves his recent string of failures, but is also a victim. In the "action buddy comedy" realm, it's hard to think of anyone that could keep up with the 'Die Hard'-era Willis in terms of both dry comedic sense and sheer action bravado. Together, these two guys are hilarious, and kick a lot of ass.
Much like the other half of this disc, the story here is archetypal (so nothing new or revelatory), but the mix of brains, dark humor, violence, and comedy come together well for an enjoyable cinematic collage which I have enjoyed for years. It's not a great film, but the world is a believable one, the villains are real and scary, and the action set pieces are exciting, not exaggerated with CGI. 'The Last Boy Scout's greatest strength is perhaps that it has real stakes, yet never takes itself too seriously (see the chase that ends with a car landing upside down in a random pool). Much like Black's 'Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang' the filmmakers are at once entertaining within the genre, and deconstructing it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB dual layer Blu-ray disc does not appear to be Region locked. Popping the disc into your player immediately brings you to a main menu for both films. Selecting either film opens a submenu with language and scene selections, as well as the option to go to the other film. With my PS3, taking the disc out and later playing it restarts either film where you last played it.
'Last Man Standing' (3.5/5) comes to Blu-ray with a decent 1080p/24 VC-1 encode (aspect ratio 2.40:1) and is clearly the winning presentation of this double feature. The warm color palette and wide vistas of the old west look great on a large screen. Skin tones are even, and night scenes feature deep, dark blacks. On the negative side of the coin, this print is littered with some pretty constant dirt and dust. There is also the occasional scratch, and for the first reel, there is an odd, but minor aberration running down the left side of the frame. Overall, the presentation seems representative of the source material, has not been over manipulated to reduce its natural grain structure, but is a generally flat-looking film that wavers between being soft and highly detailed.
'The Last Boy Scout (3/5). Anyone who has a DVD copy of 'The Last Boy Scout' will be relieved to make the upgrade to high definition. In directly comparing transfers, the added resolution is heavenly, though this Blu-ray presentation does appear a few degrees darker than its standard definition sibling. Upgrade aside, this is a mediocre looking film in general. I know there's detail on hand here (as evidence in many of the close ups, or day exteriors), but it's a shame that this and 'Last Man Standing' are so soft. I suppose Blu-ray's technical ability to equally accentuate strength and weakness are to blame. The movie looks the best it ever has, but it's not really that stunning. Colors are accurate, skin tones reflective of their often-colorful settings, but black levels are in question. There's plenty of darkness, but the blacks are crushed, leaving almost no detail within shadows, even in lighter scenes where the human eye would be able to see. I would think this is filmmaker intent, but the DVD doesn't look this way. Bottom line, this is a significant, but imperfect upgrade.
'Last Man Standing' (4/5). Audiophiles, you're in for some fun. With a powerful 5.1 DTS-MA Surround Sound mix, 'Last Man Standing' and it's lossless audio are the highlight of this double feature. Standards like clear and well-mixed dialogue are a given, but your speakers are about to be treated to 90 minutes of gunfire and splintering glass. Built out of deep lows and crystal clear highs, the mix has wonderful fidelity, and uses all your speakers in specific, direct ways. Every time another baddie was blasted into the air by Willis' .45 caliber pistols, I wanted to cheer because of the roaring tones. And then I would marvel when something subtle would move past the sound field to my back or sides. The mix overall could be more aggressive for an action film. Modern movies certainly exhibit more range in exploring different sounds (both in the literal sense of what is recorded, and how it then pans around the soundscape), but having heard other action pictures of the late '90s, this one is a winner.
'The Last Boy Scout' (3.5/5) also comes with an active 5.1 DTS-MA track. In analyzing the audio portion of this review, I was reminded of an interesting thing about the relative nature of reviewing Blu-rays. Having watched 'Last Man Standing' first, 'The Last Boy Scout' does not compete in the audio or video department, but in comparing 'The Last Boy Scout' against the DVD's lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, it's clear how much added value comes with this new release. In watching key scenes, most notably Chapter 6 (called "Kaboom!" on the DVD), the exploding car sounded decent in the DD version, but in DTS-MA, was more detailed, rolling through the front channels eliciting a powerful roar from the flames. Much like the video portion, the best thing about 'The Last Boy Scout' is that it's a instantly recognizable upgrade to all previous releases. That being said, it's a pretty average mix. The dialogue is clear, but like any film from 1991, it's more akin to a front heavy stereo mix. Further, the available fidelity and dynamic range on hand feel compressed.
No other soundtracks are available, but on the subtitle front, both films are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
This is a bare bones disc (save for the fact that you get two flicks on one Blu). Gone from earlier DVD releases of 'Last Man Standing' are the star highlights, theatrical trailer, and cast bios. 'The Last Boy Scout' drops 5 theatrical trailers, cast bios, and production notes from its special features. Both earlier releases also included blasphemous 1.33:1 "full screen" editions of the movies along with French two-channel stereo mixes.
So, is it worth it? I suppose that's up to each individual buyer. Double-titles only present a bargain to those who love both movies. If you're a fan of these 1990s Bruce Willis action vehicles, then for less than twenty bucks, you're in for a treat: two movies whose transfers look the best they ever have and soundtracks that are significantly upgraded. Just know the results don't compete with modern films in regards to image clarity or sound design (but one can't really expect that without some sort of restoration or awful artificial enhancement). Personally, I've only been waiting for 'The Last Boy Scout' half of this Blu-ray, so I may have skipped this release or rented it. Collectors, you'll probably want to upgrade to have the best presentation available, but this bare bones release loses what few Special Features you had. Since these DVDs were pretty bare bones as individuals, that might not be a big deal. Casual fans and first timers, I wouldn't recommend a blind buy unless you're already a fan of macho 1990s action cinema. Though faithful to the original materials, this is not a stunning Blu-ray, and to me personally, doesn't have two amazing films.