Walter Hill’s pairing of Nick Nolte’s grizzled growl and Eddie Murphy’s ludicrous laugh, 48 Hrs., is often thought of as being the genesis of the buddy cop genre, and it’s still widely considered to be one of the best films to come from the category as well. What we’ve come to expect from these movies, what has come to feel old hat, was fresh and inventive back when Hill and the gang were putting this project together, and the formula they used was so successful that we can now expect to get at least a couple high profile buddy cop movies released every year. That gives 48 Hrs. a certain amount of clout. And heck, Hill’s name alone provides it with an amazing pedigree. He was a genre master in the 80s, and these days he gets looked back on as being some sort of film geek deity.
It’s no wonder 48 Hrs. still gets shown so much respect.
One buddy cop movie that doesn’t often get spoken of with reverence, however, is Tony Scott’s The Last Boy Scout. While trying to process the recent passing of the famed director, it feels nice to look back on this – not one of his better-loved works – give it a reevaluation, and decide whether or not it’s something the film geek community has given enough appreciation to. This wasn’t a well-reviewed film, it wasn’t one of the biggest money-makers of its year, and people don’t look back on it as being an essential piece of the buddy cop canon…but isn’t it just completely awesome anyway? It has everything one would expect from a buddy cop movie and nothing bad enough to make it an embarrassment, so it seems like it should have a better reputation among action aficionados.
What do they have in common?
Buddy cop movies often pair up one crazy cop and one straight-laced cop, and both of these films do just that. But they’re also unique in that one half of both of their pairs aren’t even cops. In 48 Hrs. Nolte’s police officer gets teamed up with a convict to solve a case, and in Boy Scout Bruce Willis’ cop gets thrown into a partnership with a former professional football player. Buddy cop movies are also known for pairing up one black cop with one white cop and milking the racial tension, a tradition that started with 48 Hrs. and that definitely continues with Boy Scout.
Plus, both films pair a more established dramatic actor up with a performer who was thought of as being strictly a comedian at the time, a risky proposition that worked so well recent entries in the genre have started pairing together two comedians, moving the line further away from action and more toward comedy on a sliding scale. These movies have so much in common that they can be seen as two steps on the same evolutionary path that’s led us (for better or worse) to modern films like Cop Out, The Other Guys, and 21 Jump Street.
Why is 48 Hrs. overrated?
Action movies about cops and their wisecracking sidekicks are supposed to be fun, and one of the things that makes 48 Hrs. a difficult revisit these days is that it’s a little too gritty and depressing for its own good. Nolte and Murphy’s characters are archetypes for characters that came later, but on their own they’re not really all that likable. Nolte starts and ends the movie as a mean racist who doesn’t seem like he’d be any fun to spend time with, Murphy starts and ends the movie as a self-important thief that makes decisions based on his own selfishness, and the only real growth either of them experience is that they learn to not completely hate each other. I don’t want to escape into this world and go on adventures with these miserable people! Riggs and Murtaugh this is not.
The stuff that comes out of their mouths frequently crosses over from being sassy to being legitimately offensive as well. I understand that this was made in different, perhaps less evolved, certainly less P.C. times, but there’s just no way to listen to banter between mismatched partners that introduces the phrase “spear chucker” into the mix and still have fun with it when you’re listening with modern ears. And that’s just the stuff Nolte and Murphy are saying to each other. It gets way worse when they’re interacting with other characters. Some things just don’t age well, and, thankfully, casual racism is one of them.
But the biggest problem with watching the movie these days is that it gets boring in spots. Sure, it has its classic moments that are probably going to get referenced in the culture forever, but in between them is a pretty bare bones plot and a relatively action-free cop movie. Most of the police work Nolte and Murphy do here consists of driving around and hoping they run into the bad guys, and when they inexplicably do a time or two the only results are a decently entertaining shootout and a slow-paced car chase that happens on mostly deserted streets. When the jokes are kind of gross and the action is barely there, it starts to look like 48 Hrs. is a movie that’s surviving more on its legacy than it is its actual merits.
Why is The Last Boy Scout underpraised?
The best thing about The Last Boy Scout is that, unlike 48 Hrs., it features two characters who you like and want to root for. Willis’ character is grizzled and surly like Nolte’s, but he’s grizzled and surly in that charming John McClane way. His anger stems from his interactions with incompetent people, and it always comes with a disbelieving smirk. Boy Scout was one of the only non-Die Hard movies to realize that we all just want to see Willis play McClane, and it’s blissful to watch him have fun in a copycat role. Damon Wayans is playing a cocky character who’s made mistakes, kind of like Murphy, but his ex-footballer has his heart in the right place, is trying to get his shit together, and consequently you become invested in his efforts to kick his drug habits and avenge the death of his stripper girlfriend. These characters feel like real guys with real lives and real motivations, and that makes all the difference in the world. What do we know about Nolte and Murphy’s characters other than they’re a cop and a criminal?
Wayans and Willis get surrounded by a bunch of great side characters played by great character actors as well. Boy Scout has Taylor Negron playing a sleazy villain who you want to punch every second he’s on the screen, Rick Ducommun showing up as a bewildered home owner who gets a car driven into his pool, Jack Kehler (the guy who played The Dude’s landlord in The Big Lebowski) acting tough as a random thug, and Bruce McGill looking like a cop the way few people other than Bruce McGill can. Putting performers with personality in the small roles is an easy way to make your movie stand out, and Boy Scout does just that. Also, it has Halle Berry sexy dancing while wearing chaps.
And far from a lack of action, Boy Scout is also packed full of ridiculous, hard R, over the top action the likes of which we just don’t really see anymore. Any vehicle that takes any sort of damage in this movie explodes in a fiery cloud of death. Anybody who gets shot gets riddled with bullets, and tons of gooey, practical, non-computer animated blood splatters and oozes all over the place. When the characters speak they use the word “fuck,” and frequently. And heck, how can you not appreciate a movie that opens the way this one does, with that football player going on a murder/suicide rampage in the middle of a game, and closes the way this one does, with Bruce Willis dancing a jig? Take note everyone: this is how you please an audience.
Evening the Odds
When all is said and done, Tony Scott is probably going to be best known for things like Top Gun and Crimson Tide, but we shouldn’t forget that he made an awesome buddy cop movie too. One that’s so awesome, in fact, it easily stacks up against a competitor that’s considered to be one of the originals and one of the classics. And that’s even taking into account the fact that it has a ridiculous scene where Damon Wayans stops a sniper assassination with his quarterbacking skills. Sometimes you just have to forgive a movie of its sins.