“The Last Boy Scout” (1991) dir. Tony Scott, scr. Shane Black

Arguably the best … and darkest … of the high-octane Joel Silver-produced action films from the period between 1982 and 1993 (and that includes “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon,” which Black also wrote), “The Last Boy Scout” is a film noir on steroids.  Yes, it has Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans.  Yes, it has lots of over-the-top violence and rat-a-tat dialogue.  But … Willis and Wayans play SEVERELY flawed characters.  Willis is a former celebrated Secret Service agent who lost his job, is drowning in booze and low self-esteem, and has a wife who throws her affair with his best friend in his face.  Wayans is a former professional football player whose promising career was ruined by drug problems.  As you can predict, both characters are thrown together by chance to solve the murder of Wayans’ stripper girlfriend (an early role by future-Oscar winner Halle Berry) and their efforts may lead to a shot at redemption … maybe.  Unlike nowadays, you don’t get the sense there’s been a complete redemption of either character, but you do get the sense that things will go better.

The best scene in the film is featured here.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t include the next minute of the scene which makes the previous two minutes even funnier, but what’s here is damn good:

As much as Quentin Tarantino is celebrated for his mix of humor and darkness, Shane Black is sometimes unfairly underrated for doing a similar thing.  Black is one of the most financially successful screenwriters of all time (“Boy Scout”‘s script set a then-record of a $1.75 million sale to a studio), but because Black didn’t start off in the art-film world, some people have condemned him as a hack.  To those who think this, you really should read Black’s original script, which is way darker than the resulting film:

http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Last-Boy-Scout,-The.html

Much of the original script made it into the final film, but the last third is WAY different, is much more violent and dark (including a snuff film subplot), and had the original script been shot as is, would have rated an NC-99.  If you’re a fan of Shane Black’s (or even Tarantino), it’s well worth reading.   And of course, the film Scott made after “The Last Boy Scout” was Tarantino’s “True Romance.”  But, that’s another story …

“Bamboozled” (2001) dir. Spike Lee

Video

Arguably,”Bamboozled” is Spike Lee’s most underrated film. It didn’t get a lot of critical respect back in 2001, but this is a film that seriously needs another look.

“Bamboozled”‘s lead character is an African-American executive for a television network (played by Damon Wayans) who wants to get out of his contract, but can’t unless he’s fired. To get fired, he decides to come up with the most racist show he can imagine, a new-Millenial minstrel show, with black actors in black face, tap dancing, etc. Unfortunately for Wayans’ character, the network not only loves it, but the public does too. His show becomes the most popular show in the nation and Wayans ignores his ideals, embraces his new fame, and loses his soul.

Lee patterned “Bamboozled” on two stellar and abrasive media satires, Elia Kazan/Budd Schulberg’s 1956 film “A Face in the Crowd” and Sidney Lumet/Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film “Network.” While you can definitely see the influence of both films on “Bamboozled,” “Bamboozled” throws race into the mix. The result is a very uncomfortable and disturbing look at what we, as Americans, have called “entertainment” for over a century … an entertainment that is based on the debasement of a race of people. “Bamboozled” isn’t perfect and it could have been shorter by about 20 minutes or so, but what’s there is still devastating, especially the montage at the end which is a compilation of some of the most horrific examples of racism in film history.

“Bamboozled” in many ways prefigured the Dave Chappelle controversy of 2005, when Chappelle left a $50 million contract with Viacom because he no longer felt comfortable with the material that he was doing on his very popular cable show for Comedy Central.

What’s also intriguing about “Bamboozled” is that it’s one of the few films that seriously analyzes the art of comedy. Being a comedy junkie, I relish any pop culture artifact that takes comedy seriously and examines, sometimes uncomfortably, what makes people laugh and why.