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THE LAST BOY SCOUT – Michael Kamen

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Last Boy Scout is an action thriller directed by Tony Scott, produced by movie mogul Joel Silver, written by Shane Black and Greg Hicks. It stars Bruce Willis, hot off the success of his action outings in two Die Hard movies, as Los Angeles private detective Joe Hallenbeck, who suffers a major setback in his current case when the female witness he is protecting is murdered. Needing to find out what happened, Hallenback teams up with the victim’s boyfriend – a disgraced former professional football star named Jimmy Dix, played by Damon Wayans – and begins to investigate. However, the more Joe digs, the more scandal he uncovers and danger he finds, involving a corrupt politician and the ruthless owner of a sports franchise. The film co-starred Chelsea Field, Noble Willingham, and a young Halle Berry, and was one of the most popular and financially successful action movies of 1991, but thirty years down the line it has somewhat fallen into obscurity. The same could be said of the film’s score, which was by the great Michael Kamen.

For reasons that were not clear at the time, a score album for The Last Boy Scout was not released when the film came out, and as such for more than 15 years the score was one of the few missing pieces in Michael Kamen’s filmography. Kamen was knee deep in his Hollywood action movie period at the time – he had scored two Die Hards and two Lethal Weapons, plus Roadhouse and Renegades in the years previously, and would score more Die Hards and Lethal Weapons, plus Last Action Hero, shortly thereafter – and so the lack of a release for The Last Boy Scout was unusual. La-La Land Records finally rectified the situation in 2015 with this excellent belated release, a 3,000-unit limited edition produced by Neil S. Bulk.

La-La Land’s press notes call the score a “noir-ish suspense, black comedy, violent action score” which “cuts against the action/blockbuster grain with its soulful and understated motifs.” This is a very apt description because, although the score does share some similarities with scores like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon in terms of tone and approach, it’s actually much darker than either of them, and regularly incorporates some surprising elements of moody jazz into the orchestra. Much like he did with Riggs and Murtaugh on his Lethal Weapon scores, Kamen gives the two leading characters their own instrumental identifier: a French horn for Joe, and plucked bass for Jimmy. These two instrumental textures weave in and out of the entire score, sometimes playing contrapuntally, sometimes playing simultaneously, to represent the nature of the protagonists’ relationship at any given point.

The sultry horn theme for Willis’s character is introduced in “Meeting Joe the Dick.” Writer Shane Black apparently thought that his movie should feel like a modern Raymond Chandler piece, and that is definitely apparent in Kamen’s writing for the character, with the French horn soulfully capturing the sense of personal disgrace he feels as a result of an incident in his past. There are clear musical parallels between Jimmy Hallenbeck and Martin Riggs here – there is something damaged, unpredictable, but fundamentally good about the character – and the French horn textures are prominent in numerous subsequent cues, sounding especially good in “Flashback No.1,” and the poignant “Life Sucks,” among others.

The theme for Wayans’s character is introduced in the conclusion of “Meeting Joe the Dick,” and if anything it is even more jazzy and noirish than the one for Joe, with its plucked bass sound and undertones of criminality. Jimmy’s theme is prominent in cues such as the gently romantic “Lerve,” “Jimmy’s Flashback/Bathroom,” “Jimmy on the Phone,” and especially “Jimmy and Joe in Garage,” where the themes for both men come together properly for the first time, but where the theme for Jimmy really shines in a surprisingly sensual performance complete with nonchalant finger-snaps and a Hammond organ.

Much of the rest of the underscore is somewhat understated, at times a little grim, and is filled with little cells of moody texture-writing that creates a serious, oppressive atmosphere of lurking danger. Cues like “Closet Reveal,” “Police Station/Flashback Again,” “Shake Your Hand/This Ain’t No Game,” and “Joe in the Woods” are very much like this; they are saturated with Kamen’s personal stylistics, so much that they are unmistakably him, but for some stretches the score does drag a little as both film and music get bogged down in a world of shady business deals, blackmail, intrigue, and corruption in the corridors of power.

Thankfully, the score is enlivened by a slew of excellent cues for the numerous action sequences, which contain so many of Kamen’s familiar compositional touches and techniques, from the flourishes in the strings, to the strikingly original way he used brass, to the rapid staccato percussion rhythms that underpin the whole thing. “Death on the Gridiron” is intense and explosive, a massive cacophony of orchestral power as a pro footballer, who is being blackmailed by a mysterious stranger, takes a cocktail of hallucinogenic drugs and then shoots three opposing players dead. The electronic textures in this cue are interesting, as they appear to represent the drug-fueled haze the player enters (and they come back later in a scene where Jimmy also does drugs), and it all builds to a gripping conclusion. “Cory Dies/Gun Battle” blends elements of Jimmy’s bass theme with growling piano textures and staccato percussion hits, and builds to a frenzy of shock and confusion as Cory is brutally shot to death by hitmen.

Cues like “Jimmy’s Narrow Escape,” “Jimmy Does Cocaine/Jimmy Off Bridge” and “Joe Gets Zapped” juggle moments of tension with explosions of frenetic orchestral bombast, before “Darian to the Rescue/Car Chase” impresses with its barrage of brass fanfares, insistent string runs, and groovy electric guitar licks. The subsequent “BMW Chase” is probably the best of all the score’s action cues, although sometimes it comes across more like Alan Silvestri and Predator than classic Kamen. Pounding, throbbing percussion and hammered pianos combine with lyrical swirling strings and guttural brass in spectacular fashion – although, somewhat bizarrely, the cue occasionally switches to an Irish jig.

“Eye for an Eye” has some bright brass fanfares that have a sense of heroism, “Shelley’s Office” is shrill tension-filled electronica, and then the score’s big finale comes in the 7-minute “Joe to the Rescue/Escape/Stadium/Irish Washerwoman (Jig),” which runs the gamut of all the action techniques that made Kamen so great. Jimmy’s bass, Joe’s brass, and the chunking electric guitars are all embedded deeply into Kamen’s rousing orchestral action rhythms – and then the Irish jig comes back at the end to provide a surprisingly lyrical conclusion. The coda is the hilariously-named “Fuck You, Sarah,” which despite its title is a sweet and romantic string-and-woodwind piece, underscoring the scene of Joe reconciling with his wife, and contemplating starting up a detective agency with Jimmy.

The album is rounded out by a song and a couple of bonus alternate and unused cues, including Bill Medley’s rocking performance of the faux-NFL anthem “Friday Night’s a Great Night for Football,” and an extended “End Credits” sequence which was ultimately not used in the film.

I think that to fully appreciate The Last Boy Scout you really have to be a Michael Kamen aficionado, and have a deep appreciation for his sound and his mannerisms. It doesn’t have a stirring Robin Hood-style main theme to settle in your memory, there are no sweeping romantic passages, and as good as it is none of the action music ever quite reaches the levels of rollicking intensity heard in some of his other, more popular efforts in the genre. The somewhat daunting running time of the album release is also perhaps a little too generous – once again, to my own surprise, I think I may have preferred a slightly pared-down 40-50 minute album that showcases the highlights but trims some of the fat. Ultimately, The Last Boy Scout is a more subdued action-jazz work that sees the composer writing music that is quintessentially Kamen, but which is also fully within his comfort zone.

Buy the Last Boy Scout soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Titles (0:47)
  • Death on the Gridiron (4:57)
  • Meeting Joe the Dick (3:07)
  • Closet Reveal (3:36)
  • Who Did This?/After the Explosion (1:19)
  • Flashback No. 1 (1:26)
  • Lerve (1:14)
  • Cory Dies/Gun Battle (2:53)
  • Police Station/Flashback Again (2:10)
  • Jimmy and Joe in Garage (2:25)
  • Jimmy’s Flashback/Bathroom (1:55)
  • Jimmy’s Narrow Escape (3:43)
  • Shake Your Hand/This Ain’t No Game (1:10)
  • Life Sucks (2:06)
  • Jimmy Does Cocaine/Jimmy Off Bridge (4:31)
  • Joe Gets Zapped (2:30)
  • Jimmy on the Phone (1:16)
  • Joe in the Woods (3:49)
  • Darian to the Rescue/Car Chase (4:16)
  • BMW Chase (4:15)
  • Eye for an Eye (1:29)
  • Shelly’s Office (4:41)
  • Joe to the Rescue/Escape/Stadium/Irish Washerwoman (Jig) (6:42)
  • Fuck You, Sarah (3:13)
  • Friday Night’s a Great Night for Football (written by Steve Dorff and John Bettis, performed by Bill Medley) (3:30)
  • Titles (Alternate) (0:52)
  • Bathroom (Extended) (2:13)
  • End Credits (Unused) (2:02)

Running Time: 78 minutes 04 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1331 (1991/2015)

Music composed and conducted by Michael Kamen. Orchestrations by Bruce Babcock, Philip Giffin, Albert Olson, Patrick Russ, Jonathan Sacks and Brad Warnaar. Recorded and mixed by Stephen McLaughlin and Robert Fernandez . Edited by Christopher Brooks and Tom Milano. Score produced by Michael Kamen and Stephen McLaughlin. Album produced by Neil S. Bulk.

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