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 nasty The Last Boy Scout (1991), starring Bruce Willis, JOE HALLENBECK is the former Golden Boy of the Secret Service, the hot shot 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 wiseass teenage daughter who calls him a loser, and an unhealthy appetite for nicotine and alcohol. And a business that's circling the bowl.

So, when a stripper 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. He soon finds himself teamed up with James Alexander Dix, the dancer's boyfried, 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.

The film kicks off with a lot of promise. And the opening sequence, a brutal pro football game being played out in a relentless downpour, climaxes in a scene you won't soon forget. And 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 update on Willis' character from TV's Moonlighting. But the over-the-top violence and the bleak cynicism comes 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, and there are some scenes, particularly between Joe and his wife, and with his troubled teenage daughter, that are almost painful to watch. Fortunately, just when the squirm threshold seems to be within reach, something blows up or, as Chandler put it, some guy comes through the door with a gun.

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 P.I. Joe Hallenbeck 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 what do I know? I re-rented it and checked it out again. DAMN! Shane was right, I was wrong. The scene never takes place. At least in the film. In the novelization, though, by some guy called Dan Becker, it sure 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.

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.

It's a misrepresentative little slip on Becker's part that still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, all these years later, and unfairly tainted my opinion of the film for years. Sorry, Shane.

So just rent it and enjoy. As Joe would say, "Who gives a fuck? Want a beer?"

Black, by the way, also wrote Lethal Weapon, and received an unprecedented (for the time) $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, hemade 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.

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."

FILM

  • THE LAST BOY SCOUT..Buy this DVD...Buy this video
    (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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