Following the death of Tony Scott, I thought I’d take the opportunity to fully appreciate his films. The full “fully.”

Hooray movies.

Last time, I watched the top row. My assessment of Early Scott was that his best work happens when he’s unrestricted by a PG-13 rating and isn’t trying to capture the spark of the original Beverly Hills Cop. Overall, I was underwhelmed.

And now, Day 2.

THE LAST BOY SCOUT

Previous viewings: None.

Okay, so right out of the gate, I knew I would have a hard time talking about this movie without ruining it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. We open on a ridiculous song-and-dance number trying to convince us that Friday night is, in fact, a great night for football. Then something insane happens.

Try and guess.

We are eventually introduced to our buddy duo, a fuck-up investigator who’s great at what he does but has a lot of problems (Bruce Willis), and a fuck-up football player who’s great at what he does but has a lot of problems (Damon Wayans). And they both have mirrors for those problems.

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…

Also, Wayans tries to make this hat work for most of the movie.

Some shady things are happening in the football world, and these two team up to put a stop to it over the course of 105 ridiculously action-packed minutes. I’ll admit, I know nothing about football, but apparently nobody watched it in 1991? I wouldn’t know, because I wasn’t watching it in any year, but from the clues provided in the movie, free agents ruined the game, and the networks don’t know what night to put the game on, plus that thing I can’t tell you. I don’t know. But I do know this… Top Gun‘s “the need for speed” does not belong on the AFI movie quotes list when this movie has: “Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You’re gonna lose. Smile, you fuck.”

That line comes to you from Bruce Willis’s mouth and, more importantly, from Shane Black’s screenplay, which I think is what really gives this movie a boost. He already hit the buddy action comedy out of the park with Lethal Weapon, and after this film, continued to give us The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. For all the jokes about screenwriters being unnecessary in Hollywood, I like seeing Black’s name on projects, like the upcoming Iron Man 3.

I’ve read a few articles calling this film satirical, which I certainly agree with, but also meta, which frankly would not have been my description of it the first time around. If it truly is meta, it’s far more subtle than films like The Player or Scream or The Cabin in the Woods. Besides a bad guy actually calling himself “the bad guy,” I didn’t have much on the pile. For satire, though, wow. I never knew what was going to happen next, which is common in the best over-the-top action films, but it was cranked to 11 here. My brain didn’t know whether to laugh or shout, “Fuck yeah!”

This is the best Tony Scott film I’ve seen so far in the marathon. It’s funny, it’s action-packed, it makes time for some dark character moments, there isn’t any macho one-upping like in a lot of Scott’s previous films, and this is all despite there also being a kid in it. (No, no, really, don’t run away! She’s alright!) I almost feel like Shane Black wrote a hilarious screenplay and Tony Scott took it deadly seriously… and that’s why the whole thing works. And if Tony is only as good as his screenwriter, his next film comes to us from some guy named Quentin Tarantino.

TRUE ROMANCE (Director’s Cut)

Previous viewings: Some people were watching it in a dorm room this one time in college. I saw the Gary Oldman scenes and some Dennis Hopper stuff. But from beginning to end, zero.

First of all, this is the Tony Scott movie all my hip friends are always talking about, so after his demise, I could not get a copy of this anywhere. Once I snagged it and started watching it, here’s the very first note I wrote: “Too sucked in to take notes.” And I don’t even know how far into the movie I was when I managed to jot that down. My only other notes are on Tony Scott’s best sex scene yet and wondering if Bronson Pinchot was cast as an apology for not getting him into Beverly Hills Cop II.

Cheer up, Serge, there’s always III.

I don’t know what I can say about this movie that hasn’t already been said. (Did you know Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, and Brad Pitt are, in fact, awesome?) I feel like my brain wants to write one of those ridiculously hyper-charged critical one-liners, e.g. “True Romance is a tornado made of napalm that’s been dunked in cocaine,” but that would just be stupid.

Nope, still can’t put it into words. Much like a good meal, the less I say while enjoying a movie, the tastier it is. Check out this flick. I want you to enjoy every bite for yourself.

Oh, that was hacky. Ick. Let’s move on. After two giant hits, how could Tony possibly keep ‘em coming–

CRIMSON TIDE

Previous viewings: I saw the edited-for-TV version when I was 11 or 12. I liked it.

What really amazes me about Tony Scott at this point is his ability to switch from an insane, frenetic movie chiseled out of coolness to a tense, energetic film that your mom could watch without being all confused and stuff. (“Why does that man want to be a gay for Elvis?” I can hear my mom asking of True Romance right now.) Here we have a standard military blockbuster on the heels of two of the coolest movies I’ve seen all year, but that’s not to say it isn’t excellent.

What makes this film work is taking two incredible actors, Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, pitting them against each other, and making sure that neither of them is necessarily doing the right thing. That’s it. Simple, but it goes a long way.

I’ve never heard a couch full of my friends be so silent.

I noted that we’ve got a military pacifist up against a classic warmonger, and yet, the movie never takes sides. In previous Scott films, we’d probably fall in line with Hackman’s guns-blazing character, but is this a new era of a kinder, gentler Tony Scott? From beginning to end, the movie presents viewpoints and makes its characters loyally stand by them, and that’s what keeps it riveting. I mean, really, when you’re on a nuclear submarine and you get an interrupted transmission that essentially says, “Hey, about World War III, we recommend that you…” just what the hell are you going to do?

In previous Tony Scott outings, two manly male rivals would resort to some dick-wagging bullshit, but here, we see a round-table discussion on various philosophies of war from multiple characters, and I couldn’t help but enjoy that it was so… smart. It’s still a pissing contest, to be sure, but I’d rather see characters match wits based on the books they’ve read than, oh, I dunno, a wheelchair race?

“I think you’ll find Sun Tzu’s theories on hospital sports rather eye-opening.”

I have a confession to make… as a movie-watcher, I tend to focus more on direction and writing than acting. (Sound design comes third.) That said, Washington and Hackman are ON FIRE. Watching this with Cinemanaut John, a man of the stage who is currently watching his way through every Oscar nominee for acting ever, I was not surprised when he announced that Crimson Tide should have gotten acting nods, especially since 1995 was such a lackluster year. I’m not as qualified as John to make that claim, but I saw Il Postino, and what the fuck, Oscars?

Also, John wonders if Crimson Tide takes place in the same universe as Top Gun. Did the events of the climactic aerial battle from the first kick off the deployment of a nuclear submarine in the second? Whoa.

Day 2 of the Give Tony Scott a Fair Shake marathon is miles above Day 1 at this point. No contest. This doesn’t even feel like Cinema 52 homework; I’m just having a good day watching great movies. I can’t wait to see this last one…

THE FAN

Previous viewings: None.

FUCK. THIS.

First of all, did you know there’s more than one movie called The Fan? I didn’t.

Left: Thirty dollars rush delivery.
Right: A pulse-pounding drive to the rental place.

After being unable to find this thing at three video stores (I prefer to own when it’s a matter of science), I asked Amazon to help me out, as The Fan is currently out-of-print. Well, I guess I didn’t read the description thoroughly, but also, who steals a movie title only 15 years after the first one?

Or, you know, 9 years?

The words I’ve already wasted on my DVD mix-up are the most interesting thing about this movie, believe me. Tony Scott tried his hand at a psychological thriller and just utterly failed.

Oh, also, he tried his hand at making a Martin Scorsese film. Seriously, we’ve got Robert DeNiro playing an off-brand version of Rupert Pupkin’s off-brand version of Travis Bickle, surrounded by Rolling Stones songs. You can have one Stones song and get away with it, but seriously, “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Start Me Up,” “Gimme Shelter,” and “Shattered” all show up to make this feel like something better than it is. And to completely take away that effect, sprinkles of Nine Inch Nails.

Ugh, I haven’t even gotten to the “plot.” DeNiro is a knife salesman who is obsessed with the San Francisco Giants. Like, he gets all pissed when he has a meeting on the same day as game day. Because he has to raise his kid to be a Giants fan. Wesley Snipes is on the team now, and– ugh, I can’t do this. Do you even need to see the movie? He’ll do anything to get the outcome he wants. Like violent things. There you go. Make my team win, end the book the way I want, put me on your late-night show… seen it, seen it, seen it.

Oh, and at one point, DeNiro kidnaps Snipes’s kid while Trent Reznor croons, “I want to fuck you.”

Spoiler: This movie ACTUALLY ENDS with DeNiro on the pitcher’s mound AT A BALLGAME, PITCHING A KNIFE AT WESLEY SNIPES. Luckily, he is surrounded by police. With guns.

In a shocking twist, DeNiro comes back as a zombie.

I– I– we’re done here. This was a real disappointment.

CONCLUSION:

Tony Scott really upped his game in the early ’90s. At this point, I’d call The Last Boy ScoutTrue Romance, and Crimson Tide his Holy Trinity. I could watch all three of those films over again right now. Tony Scott really is skilled with the right material: pair him with a great script, wind him up, and watch him go. Unfortunately, The Fan was a clear misstep. Let’s hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

NEXT TIME:
Enemy of the State
Spy Game
Man on Fire
Domino

(Click here for Day 3.)