Author: Tony Giglio and Michael Hultquist & Robert Martinez
Writer’s Potential: 4
A suicidal widower is kidnapped and forced to participate in in a deadly fighting competition.
Two hulking men, RIPPER and MAYHEM, fight in a nomadic village, circa 1000 A.D. At one point, Ripper slams his axe down, causing distortion on the screen. It’s revealed that this fight is not really 1000 A.D.—it’s staged to look that way with green screens and a few practical props. This fight is watched by people all over the world, who are angry that the distortion has caused a “Signal Lost” message to appear on their computers. In the studio control room, technical director GEORGE (40s, African-American) and computer technician YOSHI (20s, Japanese) are chewed out by boss RADU (50s, well-dressed) until they get the system back online. Audience members cheer at the return of the fight. They start voting for whether or not Mayhem will be killed or allowed to stay. Yoshi shrugs at the “Kill” decision, pointing out nobody’s ever gotten a high enough percentage to stay. A hooded man, THE EXECUTIONER, appears on the nomadic village set. He hands Ripper his axe, which Ripper uses to decapitate Mayhem.
DAVID, 30s and fit, has a picnic with pregnant wife LORI (30s) and daughter MEGAN (6). David explains to Megan how the caterpillar-butterfly metamorphosis works. Driving home, David’s car is rammed from behind by a truck, which immediately peels out and speeds away. With David distracted, a dark sedan smashes into the passenger side of the car. Later, the car is totaled. Lori and Megan are both dead. At his funeral, nobody shows up but a bandaged-up David and a mysterious TALL MAN. David starts dreaming of suicide. David decides to take a vacation to Thailand, where he meets the gorgeous MILLA (French, 20s, a tattooed and scarred not-so-secret cutter) tending a dive bar. Milla flirts with David. She ends up back at his hotel room. As they have sex, huge men burst into the room, pummeling the crap out of David.
David awakens in a jail cell in a mysterious compound. He’s wearing some strange boots. His beard and head have been shaved. The cell is covered in Plexiglas, with video monitors behind them. They come to life, showing images of violence as loud music blares. The Executioner appears on the screen, explaining that Dr. David Lord no longer exists—his name is now Death Dealer, and he is destined to die. Jailors enter his cell and inject him with something. In an office, Radu discusses David with Milla, Yoshi, and CONSTANTIN (what The Executioner is known as when he’s not “in character”). Milla and Yoshi explain David’s backstory—an intelligent but disgraced doctor who now works at Wal-Mart after killing several patients with drug overdoses. Radu asks Constantin if he can get David to fight. Constantin grins.
In David’s cell, the images and music have stopped. A jailor tosses a raw steak into the cell, then sends in a pit bull after it. David has to fight the dog to the death in order to eat; it turns out, the steak is rancid. The Executioner tells him there’s plenty of fresh meat on the dog. The Executioner asks David’s name; David states his name, and the Executioner tells him his name is now Death Dealer. The jailors inject David again, and he has an odd, hallucinatory experience in which he sees Lori appear in his cell. He wakes up and is freezing—just another act of torment. The voice of TAN LI (30s, Japanese) comes through a hole in the wall. He tells David they’re injecting him with heroin because it helps with brainwashing. He doesn’t know much about what’s happening, just that there are 8-10 others. He went on a Spanish vacation with his wife, AYAME, but she left to get aspirin and never returned. Tan got drunk and woke up in his cell.
The jailors come to take David to fight Ripper. It’s kill or be killed, but David refuses to fight. He simply tries to avoid Ripper’s moves. Constantin decides to make things more interesting. A machete drops from the ceiling. Ripper grabs it, and now David is forced to fight back. David gets the machete from Ripper and gets in a few good slices, enough to incapacitate his opponent. The Executioner comes out with the axe, but David refuses to kill him. David yells out his name and that he’s been kidnapped, but the show is on a 15-second delay. Yoshi cuts the feed before the message gets out. The Executioner decapitates Ripper. After the fight, Constantin is livid. He wants to kill David. Radu convinces him to keep his cool because of David’s incredible popularity. Milla has stolen a photo of David, which she uses as a masturbation aid. She can’t quite get off until she cuts herself. She goes to David’s cell with a plate of decent food. Things turn ugly when Milla asks about his family. He chokes her. Jailors burst in, “activating” David’s boots so he can’t move. They pull him off Milla, who insists to a jealous Constantin that she just wanted information.
David wakes up in a “challenge room.” He hangs from the ceiling, suspended from the ceiling by a rope over a deep hole. David swings to get to a platform, slices the ropes binding his hand with the edge of the platform, and tries to make a daring escape. He ends up in a strange room that feels like the outside but isn’t. Radu waits for him, surrounded by eight crazy pit bulls in cages. He offers David a deal: he can fight 10 fights, and if he survives all 10, Radu will release him—or Radu can activate his boots and release the dogs from their cages. David doesn’t believe him, tells him to shove the deal up his ass. Radu’s bluff has been called; David is beaten by guards and returned to his cell. Radu visits Constantin, who is having sex with Milla. Constantin’s pleased that Radu didn’t go for the deal. David confesses everything about his family to Tan; Milla’s watching on the monitors. David blames himself for her death.
David is forced to fight the SAVAGE SAMURAI. To sweeten the deal, Constantin threatens to kill Milla if David doesn’t win and kill the Samurai. David fights aggressively and is about to deal the deathblow when he realizes the Samurai is Tan, in costume. Tan apologizes profusely, saying Constantin showed him Ayame and threatened to kill her if he didn’t take out David. David tells Tan he’s sending him to a better place; he decapitates him with the Executioner’s axe. The Executioner kills Ayame on the air. David tells Radu he will accept his offer of 10 fights—on one condition. The tenth fight must be against Constantin. If Radu doesn’t accept these terms, David says he’ll kill himself. Radu and Constantin don’t believe him, but Constantin thinks he can beat David, so they accept the terms.
A montage follows, showing David fighting a varied group of opponents as the viewership of the tournaments go up. Showing a little fear, Constantin has their people attack an Australian prison bus carrying hardened criminal BRUTUS JACKSON. He’s huge and psychopathic. Radu is livid, because their tournament is already being pursued by every intelligence agency in the world—kidnapping Brutus is like leaving a breadcrumb trail to the studio. Constantin doesn’t care. They put David in the ring with Brutus, and although it’s not easy, David impales the bigger man on an old iron spike. Constantin’s even more afraid now—that was his last fight before matching with the Executioner. David and Constantin have 48 hours to train. Milla comes to David’s cell to wish him luck. He begs her to call his brother, giving her a sob story about them becoming estranged and David fears he’ll die before apologizing.
Milla calls David’s brother, who’s angry and insists his brother’s dead. Milla says he’s not, and the brother says, “He is to me,” and hangs up. Milla’s disappointed. Constantin trains hard in the studio’s state-of-the-art training facility; David’s stuck in his cell, training with no equipment. Before the fight, Radu gives David a pep talk, followed by an injection to make him drowsy midway through the fight. David calls Radu a coward. The fight begins. As David and the Executioner duke it out, soldiers surround the compound and begin shooting guards. They storm into the building. David gets his ass kicked, but the viewers vote for a “Stay” for David—for the first time in the show’s history. Radu tries to convince George to flip the percentages so it’s a kill, but Milla won’t let him. As Constantin pulls off his hood and prepares to kill him anyway, David’s recent life flashes before his eyes: turns out, although Lori and Megan really were killed, it was for a reason. David’s a spy whose cover was blown. The Tall Man is his handler, and he assigns David to infiltrate “Kill_or_Stay.com,” but the organization has nothing to go on but “a woman with a tattoo”— Milla. The agency plants a fake backstory about David’s disgraceful medical career and his job at Wal-Mart. The flashback keeps going until it’s perfectly clear that the “brother” Milla called was actually Tall Man, and she was playing right into a code. The soldiers infiltrating are from Interpol.
In the present, David gets the final drop on Constantin, pressing his thumbs into Constantin’s eyes, blinding him. David grabs Constantin’s knife and drives it into Constantin’s heart. Radu tries to escape, ends up in the savage pit bull room with David. David lectures Radu on what he’s done, then leaves without releasing the pit bulls. In the hallway outside the room, soldiers approach. He hands them the cage control and tells them it will let them into the room where Radu is. David reunites with Milla, and he tells the soldiers to take her into custody because she’s “one of them.” Milla’s horrified and enraged. David reunites with the Tall Man, who praises him on a job well done. David’s grief-stricken that he had to fight and kill so many innocent people. Tall Man tells David he just did what he had to do—his slate is clean.
The best thing I can say about this script is that the writers made a couple of wise decisions with David’s character—they made his pain real and relatable, and they gave us something real to make him sympathetic even after the “twist” ending, which essentially rewrites who he’s been the entire time. Because his wife and daughter really were killed, and that really is haunting him, I felt slightly less betrayed by such a goofy, nonsensical reversal. The dialogue is also not half bad—there isn’t much of a plot, so the characters spend their time talking about themselves more than what’s happening with the tournament. These aren’t the most interesting people in the world, and they aren’t having the most scintillating conversations, but at least it’s not a stream of on-the-nose babbling.
However, what good the writers do is torn apart by that stupid twist. Although it doesn’t remove David’s pain, it does call into question a lot of behavior—for instance, why constantly demand to know why he’s there or announce to the entire world that he’s been kidnapped? It can be chalked up to “he’s an undercover agent, so he’s acting the part,” but it ends up feeling like a betrayal to the audience. The moments generate sympathy for the man, but it’s all false. Worse than that, it means he killed 11 people (I’ve excluded Constantin because, frankly, he did deserve it) for no reason. These are innocent prisoners, just like he’s pretending to be, so what’s the point of the assignment? To find the compound where they’re filming and infiltrate it? Milla showed her sympathy for him instantly, so David couldn’t begged her to call the “brother” earlier? They make a big deal about how nobody’s survived more than three fights before David, so it wouldn’t be out of line for him to ask before his second match. And why kill Tan? He’s sending him to a “better place,” but he knows this whole tournament won’t last much longer. Granted, Constantin would have killed Tan if David hadn’t, but David’s dialogue before killing Tan doesn’t make sense. Bottom line: the twist just creates too many holes. Audiences will have their minds blown, but the second they put any thought into it, the whole story falls apart.
The story also takes a startlingly unoriginal concept—the “prisoners forced to fight to the death” story has been done at least once on every science-fiction TV series in history, and is often incorporated into the plot of gladiator-themed movies (e.g., Spartacus, Gladiator). The closest thing to a new spin these writers put on the story is adding those strange boots that, when activated, lock a person into place. Aside from acknowledging the show’s popularity, the writers make no attempt to add any kind of social commentary about the decaying state of entertainment or the bloodthirsty desires of this audience. What’s the point here?
As a raucous action movie, it will bring in those fans. It’ll also likely draw the attention of boxing/wrestling/mixed martial-arts fans, although I suspect many fans of these sports are action-movie fans, as well.