In a downtown L.A. neighborhood dominated by tattoo parlors, a store called ''$3 Fashion,'' and triple-X theaters with fortresslike metal gates, a man in a pink velvet suit and orange fedora marches Bruce Willis at gunpoint past spray-painted gangland symbols into a dead-end alley. Smog shrouds the moon or is it just the smoke machine belching film noir atmosphere? Willis is only weeks away from getting the verdict on his most recent risky venture, Hudson Hawk, a wacky, big-budget comedy due out May 24, but, not a man to take things easy, he is already back filming new screen mayhem. The Last Boy Scout is his latest collaboration with Die Hard and Hudson Hawk producer Joel Silver, a stomach-knotting big spender once described by the Wall Street Journal as a ''Rambo-style personality,'' and it features a blood-spattered $1.75 million script by Lethal Weapon's Shane Black. In this scene, Willis' character, a stone-broke detective, was on his way to meet a topless dancer, explains script supervisor P.R. Tooke, but it gets complicated here he's just been sidetracked and she's about to get blown away, so the impoverished gumshoe will end up befriending the topless dancer's boyfriend, a disgraced quarterback, and together they'll go on to snuff a bunch of bad guys.
''It's a male-bonding, kicky-dicky, fight-fight-fight scene,'' Tooke says. ''Basically, it's awfully good one of the best-written genre scripts I've ever seen. You really like these guys.''
You can say the same for Willis, who has fashioned a career out of being likable in male-bonding, kicky-dicky entertainments. Being likable is the way he beat 3,000 contenders for his breakthrough role on TV's Moonlighting back in 1985, stunned Hollywood by earning $5 million as a movie nobody for 1988's Die Hard (whose first poster featured the building he saved instead of his face), stunned movie folks even more by propelling last summer's Die Hard 2 to a $115 million take, and perplexed them completely with a series of mind-boggling paychecks: an estimated $10 million for voice-overs on Look Who's Talking, perhaps $3 million for a few weeks' work on the bummer The Bonfire of the Vanities, and now, a reported $14 million for The Last Boy Scout.
Okay, so maybe there's a little over-the-top testosterone mixed in with his likability. The point is, Willis is a big star, although not, he takes pains to point out, exclusively a big action star.
''I mean, I've only done two action films,'' says Willis, quaffing Evian and stretching out on a couch in his trailer between murders on The Last Boy Scout. ''Die Hard was walkin' into the jungle and havin' to carve yourself a path. With Die Hard 2 the path was already carved and there were street signs tellin' ya which way to go. Now I'm starting to get the impression that people out there think of me as this guy who only does action movies. Before Die Hard I was a makin'-us-laugh kind of guy, and then you do well in another genre and they say, 'Okay, I got him figured out now, let's put him in this category.' Hopefully with Hudson Hawk they'll say, 'Oh, yeah, he does comedy too.'''
Which brings up a good and possibly tender point: What will people make of Hudson Hawk, Tri-Star's money-stuffed first strike in the battle for summer blockbuster dominance and Willis' most elaborate effort to step out of the shadow of Die Hard hero John McClane?