Joe Hallenbeck

Created by Shane Black and Greg Hicks

“This is the nineties. You don’t just go around punching people. You have to say something cool first.”
— Joe muses on the state of the action flick, circa 1991.

In the surprisingly nasty 1991 action flick The Last Boy Scout, Bruce Willis stars as JOE HALLENBECK, the former hot shot Golden Boy of the Secret Service who once stopped a bullet meant for President Carter.

But that was a long time ago, before he punched out a senator and was forced to resign. Now’s he’s just a mess–a burnt-out, washed-up, broken down middle-aged Los Angeles private eye. All he has going for himself is a crumbling marriage, a foul-mouthed teenage daughter who thinks he’s a loser, and an unhealthy appetite for nicotine and alcohol. And a business that’s circling the bowl.

So, when a stripper (Halle Berry) hires him to be her bodyguard, he jumps at he chance, a .38 Detective Special in one hand, a pint of Seagram’s in the other. But when she’s murdered, he finds himself teamed up with her boyfriend, James Alexander Dix (Damon Wayans), a young black pro football player currently banned from the league for point-shaving. The odd couple soon find themselves embroiled in a nasty stew of football, politics, gambling and murder. And, this being a buddy flick, plenty of wisecracks.

The film kicks off with a lot of promise, and the opening sequence that takes place during a brutal pro football game being played out in a relentless downpour, climaxes in a scene you won’t soon forget. For the most part, the action doesn’t let up.

Joe is an appealingly-scuzzy eye, heavy on the snappy answers, perpetually on the prowl for another cigarette, a delightfully-downscale take on Willis’ character from TV’s Moonlighting. But the over-the-top violence and the bleak cynicism come perilously close to stopping the play dead-cold. As much as we may enjoy (in a sorta sick but pass the popcorn way) watching these people, none of them are particularly likable, whaling on each other, there are other scenes, particularly between Joe and his wife, and with his troubled teenage daughter, that are so mawkish that they’re almost painful to watch.

It’s an uneven mix, at best, and Hallenbeck never quite engaged my sympathy, but fortunately, just when the squirm threshold comes close to triggering the gag reflex, something always blows up or some guy comes through the door with a gun, and the Hallmark moments are forgotten.

So just rent it and enjoy, and don’t think too much. As Joe would say, “Who gives a fuck? Want a beer?”

MEA CULPA

When I first wrote this page, it had been years since I’d seen the film, and I mentioned the trouble I had with one particular scene, and took the film makers to task, asking how we were supposed to be entertained by an apparently innoccent security guard being gunned down point-blank by an unblinking Joe, the so-called “Last Boy Scout.” This is the good guy? I suggested this was a little too far over the line, and suggested there were no merit badges for that one…

The film’s writer, Shane Black, his own bad self, called me on it:

I have seen The Last Boy Scout nearly (at best guess) 100 times, in and out of the editing room, and I can’t for the life of me recall a scene where Joe guns down an innocent security guard, as your website attests.

For the record: He’s trying to prevent an assassination, and I think he slams the cop against a wall. He doesn’t even HAVE a gun in this scene, if memory serves (and serve it does)…

NOW. That having been said? The film is a frustrating proposition, so much potential, then a lot of “big action” which evolved over time and bloated a much less grandiose blueprint. One of my big Hollywood lessons, not the first.

So did I imagine the scene? I re-rented it and checked it out again and DAMN! Shane was right, I was wrong. The scene never takes place. At least in the film. So where did I come up with it?

It turns out that in the novelization (which I had read years ago before seeing the movie even for the first time), written by some guy called Dan Becker, it does happen. Joe, in his rush to confront the bad guy, does indeed put one into a guard whose sole crime seems to be that he’s doing his job, and I — in my own rush to get the entry up — misread my notes. Here’s the actual excerpt from the novelization:

A sentry in shirtsleeves bolted up from a folding chair, but before his pistol had cleared his shoulder Joe had fired twice, and the man spun to the floor.

Did Becker write the book based on an earlier draft of the screenplay, or did he get creative? Either way, that scene still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, all these years later, and unfairly tainted my opinion of the film for years. Sorry, Shane.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Black is still best known for writing the screenplay for Lethal Weapon, and received an unprecedented , record-breaking $1,750,000 for the screenplay of The Last Boy Scout, followed by a whopping $4,000,000 for The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), wherein a P.I. played by Samuel Jackson helps anmesiac client Geena Davis be all that she can be. In 2005, he made his directorial debut, with yet another comedy/action flick based around a P.I., the Robert Downey Jr./Val Kilmer vehicle Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

UNDER OATH

  • “…a superb example of what it is: a glossy, skillful, cynical, smart, utterly corrupt and vilely misogynistic action thriller”.
    — Roger Ebert (three stars)
  • “The Last Boy Scout is a guilty pleasure by any standard, but I’ve seen plenty of guilt-free movies lately that aren’t this much fun.”
    — Entertainment Weekly

THE EVIDENCE

  • Jimmy: “You’re a real bastard, ya know that, Joe?”
    Joe: “And then some.”
  • “Sure, I believe in it. I believe in the sun, too, but it’s still gonna burn out one of these days.”
    Joe reflects on the nature of love.
  • “The sky is blue, water is wet, women have secrets. Who gives a fuck?”
    Joe gets all sensitive and misty-eyed…
  • “All private detectives are scumbags.”

FILMS

  • THE LAST BOY SCOUTBuy this video | Buy this DVD | Buy this Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1991, Geffen Pictures)
    Story by Shane Black and Greg Hicks
    Screenplay by Shane Black
    Directed by Tony Scott
    Produced by Joel Silver andMichael Levy
    Executive producers: Barry Josephson and Shane Black
    A Silver Pictures Production
    Starring Bruce Willis as JOE HALLENBECK
    and Damon Wayans as James Alexander Dix
    Also starring Chelsea Filed, Noble Willingham, Taylor Negron, Danielle Harris, Halle Berry

NOVELIZATION

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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