Posts in: March 2010

Script Review (Odds ‘n’ Ends Edition): The Spy Next Door by Joe Ballarini

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Has it been almost a month? Jeez, my combo of laziness and apathy sure make the time fly. Here’s the problem with February: with the exception of Dread and most of Frozen, I didn’t get paid to read any of those scripts. Not a single one. And honestly, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to read the copies of The Wolfman, Shutter Island, and A Couple of Dicks (a.k.a. Cop Out) that I’ve had sitting on my hard drive for months, specifically for last month. I just said, “Fuck it.” When I can’t muster up the enthusiasm to want to see these movies, imagine how hard it is to get me the scripts when you aren’t waving a check in my face. And even that bites me in the ass. (Yeah, I just finished doing my taxes—I always forget what a shit-ton I end up having to pay because I’m technically “self-employed” and, therefore, my pay isn’t taxed until I get my 1099-MISC, fill out all those stupid forms, and shout obscenities when I see the amount I owe.)

I’ll be honest: March probably won’t fare much better. The majority of scripts I planned to review got delayed. Hot Tub Time Machine is the lone exception, so those of you who are into these reviews can look forward to that in a few weeks. I also read a script that’s a lot like Brooklyn’s Finest, but it’s not Brooklyn’s Finest, so maybe I’ll toss that up for shits and giggles. Otherwise, I’ll either be dusting off odds ‘n’ ends like I am today, or I’ll actually produce real content. By that, I mean I’ll do my Andy Rooney schtick about current Hollywood conventions that I don’t like. I’ll probably also talk a little more about masturbation and/or why my friends are all idiots.

Anyway, enough of my bullshit… Let’s enjoy a review of a script you’ll probably never read, which in no way resembles the film it turned into!

Remember the basic setup to Action? (Hint: not to alienate you, gentle reader, more than usual, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, and you’re interested in screenwriting, something in your life has gone awry.) Dorky nobody writer suddenly finds himself approaching the A list simply because one of the biggest producers in Hollywood confuses him for an established writer? I had a similar situation crop up about a year ago, when I received the screenplay for Joe Ballarini’s The Spy Next Door. I thought little of receiving it, because I’d been deluged with not just spy scripts but wacky, In-Laws-esque spy comedies. But something weird happened. As I often do, I Googled information about the movie shortly after finishing the coverage and disocvered, to my surprise, that Jackie Chan had signed on to star.

“Huh,” I thought. “He doesn’t seem like a very good fit for either of the main characters.” I prepared to dismiss it, assuming they’d done some rewrites to adjust the role to Chan (after all, the draft I read was dated 2002—a lot of development may have happened since then), when I noticed something even odder: the plot described Chan as a spy who agrees to babysit his next-door neighbor’s kids.

“The fuck?” I thought. This description had virtually nothing to do with the script I’d read, other than the title. More than that, the IMDb didn’t credit Ballarini at all (nor, would I eventually learn, did the film itself)—in fact, the only reference I could find was a USC alumni magazine interview with Ballarini in which he briefly mentions selling the script. I don’t have a clue if this script went through such a long, arduous development process that it bears no resemblance to its source, or if two completely different scripts just happened to have the same title. It made me wonder if my bosses had simply requested the wrong script from the wrong people—and that’s still a possibility. I don’t know all the details, and I don’t have much interest in researching it.

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Script Review: Hot Tub Time Machine by Josh Heald and Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel & Steve Pink

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Is funny enough?

I’m not trying to blow your mind. I just think that’s Hot Tub Time Machine‘s unintended central dramatic question. Because, honestly, it is funny…but it’s not much more. It’s filled to the brim with what I call “empty laughs.” I frequently use the pilot of How I Met Your Mother as an example. I sat there and laughed my ass off for 22 minutes, and when it ended, I shrugged and said, “That wasn’t very good.” The characters ranged from bland (Ted) to irritatingly over-the-top (Barney), the episodic story wasn’t terribly compelling, the premise seemed extremely limited (I’m amazed they’ve sustained it this long), and the “surprise ending” (Aunt Robin!) blew ass. Although it consistently made me laugh, it didn’t really make me do much else (and not for a lack of trying). Frankly, I want more than that, even in a crappy CBS sitcom. I know I’m a creepy alien in the current culture, but I like entertainment that makes me think and feel—not a string of cheap laughs predicated on ironic detachment and obvious pop-culture references. I don’t even mind cheap laughs like that as long as they’re entrenched in something with a bit of depth. Maybe I’m missing something special in How I Met Your Mother, but based on the fact that promos show they still use “suit up” (a gag that came close to getting stale before the pilot episode ended), holy shit am I glad I didn’t stick with it.

Hot Tub Time Machine is a lot like that. It’s one of the rare comedy scripts that’s actually funny on the page, but to get back to the opening question, is that enough? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

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Root Canal

Longtime readers may remember Dentist Chick, but here’s the short version for those too lazy to remember and/or click the link: a girl I went to high school with started working at my dentist’s office, and she was into me, big-time. To a shrine-in-the-closet degree that would creep me out if she weren’t so fucking hot. I flirted with the idea of asking her out, knowing full well it wouldn’t be much more than a one- or two-night stand, and then I found out she had a kid. That made things difficult for me because, well… I have what the therapeutic community calls “rescuer tendencies,” and usually a single mother with a dead-end job has the sort of emotional baggage that attracts me.

It’s difficult, though, because every six months, I have this woman throwing herself at me, desperately wishing I’d just fucking ask her out already. And she’s really fucking hot. Do you realize what a rarity this is in the curmudgeonly world of Stan? Tragically, it’s not as rare as you’d think, but it’s always unwanted attention that leaves me feeling awkward, and the end result is hilarious alienation of the other party.

Not so with Dentist Chick, however. It’s a little easier because we have an infrequent, business-oriented relationship. She can flirt with me all she wants, but eventually she has to get back to the billing and scheduling, and that’s my cue to run out the door before I either demand sex or try to offer protection against memories of her abusive stepfather. Yeah, it’s weird being me.

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Age of Heroes

Author: Adrian Vitoria and Ed Scates

Genre: War/Action/Historical

Storyline: 3

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




During World War II, a unit of British commandos raid a communications outpost in German-occupied Norway.


World War II. On the Belgium/France border, four British soldiers—including SMITH and their de facto leader, RAINS—take on heavy enemy fire as they attempt to escape a vicious battle. Although one of the soldiers is seriously injured, Rains refuses to leave a man behind. They narrowly escape the Germans but end up lost in the French woods. Eventually, they come upon a British military police checkpoint. Noting that the soldiers have lost their leader, the military police attempt to send them on an ambush job. Rains refuses, observing that he doesn’t take orders from MPs, and the last order from his sergeant was to go to Dunkirk. Angered by the defiance, the MP arrests them and forces them to a detention camp to rehabilitate insolent soldiers.

Meanwhile, commando leader CAPTAIN JACK “DAVEY” JONES meets with IAN FLEMING, his lieutenant commander. Fleming explains to Jones that they use RDF (a precursor to modern radar) to track German ship movement—but the Germans are working on similar technology. Jones must lead his group into German-occupied Norway and destroy their prototypes. Helping them will be MORTEN STEINAR, a Norwegian-born American who volunteered with the royal military. In the military prison, Rains is defiant from the start. He tries to help a dehydrated fellow soldier, BRIGHTLING, and attacks a prison guard when they tell him to stop. Brightling is actually a commando. He takes a shine to Rains, who thought commandos were just a myth. Jones arrives at the prison to retrieve Brightling, and Rains insists on tagging along. Jones sends Rains away, telling him to find Jones once he’s released and maybe he can be considered as a commando then. Rains deliberately misinterprets Jones’s instructions. He steals a rifle and holds Jones hostage until he’s safely out of the prison. Jones is both irritated and impressed by Rains’s speed, skill, and improvisation. They meet with MAC, a Scottish sergeant, before dropping Brightling off at a hospital. They go to Scotland to train with Steinar and several other members of Jones’s team.

Rains and Steinar are taught how to use the special commando weapons and explosives, hand-to-hand combat, mountain-climbing, and stealth. Rains gets to know the other men. After extensive training, Fleming shows up to brief them on intelligence. They’re to fly into Norway with a young soldier, ROGER ROLLRIGHT, an expert on the German RDF technology. They’ll rendezvous with a resistance operative known only as BEOWULF, who will lead them to the German’s RDF, which Rollright will help them destroy. Once the mission is completed, they’ll return to pickup coordinates and wait for a return flight. Rains asks about the opposition. Fleming tells them they’re up against an extremely well-trained platoon, but they have the advantage of surprise. The men prepare for the mission. Jones assigns Rains the job of protecting Rollright.

On the plane, the PILOT explains that because the weather is good, he’ll land and allow them to dismount with their skis. He’ll return to retrieve them in 72 hours, unless they send up a red flare to signal danger. The dozing comandos are suddenly awakened over Norway as antiaircraft fire threatens to rip their plane apart. They toss out their equipment and parachute out of the plane, losing two men in the chaos. The others reach the mountain forest safely, but they’ve lost their skis and have to hike down the mountain to the rendezvous point. While Rains and Steinar keep watch, Beowulf arrives, skiing down the mountain, face covered in balaclava. To their surprise, Beowulf is LIV JANSEN, a Norwegian woman. They take her to Jones, who is equally surprised. Jensen briefs them on the intelligence she has gathered. They have roughly 20 soldiers guarding the RDF, but they’re using the harbor to store U-boats. They organize the infiltration of the communication outpost, and carry out their assault. Despite some casualties on the British side, the soldiers manage to hold the Germans off long enough for Jensen, Rains, and Rollright to destroy the RDF kit and steal the technology for analysis. They retreat in a German jeep. Jensen radios for their pickup, but Fleming tells them there’s a storm approaching—their only option is to cross the border into neutral Sweden.

Rains and Steinar do some recon over the nearby village and discover the SS herding villagers to the center of town, where they’re all unceremoniously executed. Both are horrified, particularly Steinar. Jones and Mac try to convince Rains and Steinar that they’re merely casualties of war, but Rains and Steinar won’t accept that. Jones tells them their objective is to return home, but Steinar convinces them to stay behind and go after the SS officers who did this. Jensen knows the SS officers and U-boat captains spend most of their time in a nearby ski lodge, which is not heavily guarded. The group mounts up and descends on the ski lodge. A wild firefight ensues. Rains places explosives. Once placed, they retreat into blizzard-like conditions. Jensen is pleased—this will give them ample cover for hours. Jones is shot in the thigh. Steinar intends to retaliate by throwing a grenade, but he’s shot dead before he can throw it. Jones and Mac scramble away just as it explodes. As conditions worsen and ammunition gets low, Jensen, Rains, and Rollright are forced to separate from Jones and Mac. By dawn, the trio reaches the Swedish border.


Age of Heroes tells a straightforward World War II story with as little flourish or suspense as possible. Although the screenplay itself is actually incomplete (cutting off where one assumes the third act would begin), enough of the story is present to know the by-the-numbers storytelling and dull characters point to a screenplay that simply doesn’t work. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act does nothing more than give background information on Rains, Jones, and the mission. Redundant scenes show Rains defying authority and Jones learning the details of “Operation: Grendel,” over and over again to the point of tedium. When they’re finally brought together at the end of the first act, the script continues to pile on the redundancies through endless training montages and “character development” scenes. These scenes should define all the characters, but none of them have much personality or depth beyond their varied nationalities. Rather than imbuing the characters with any real spark, the scenes simply rehash the same traits (one per character, if that) ad nauseam.

The script gets a bit more interesting when the unit meets Jensen and prepares their assault on the communications outpost. However, the writers make too many grave miscalculations in the story. After page after page of tedious, redundant scenes in the first half of the script, they’re forced to rush through the meat of the story—destroying the Germans’ RDF—which automatically makes it less compelling. Also, it drastically reduces the amount of jeopardy for the characters and crushes the suspense. Although bullets are flying and the expendable members of the unit who have no dialogue or traits get killed, everything seems too quick and easy. Expanding on the mission (while drastically reducing the endless training montages), filling in the details of what they actually need to do and then throwing monkey wrenches into their plans, would greatly enhance the script.

As mentioned, the characters lack any real spark or individuality. Aside from Rains’s inconsistent disdain for authority (without any real rhyme or reason, he seems to choose which authority figures he’ll decide to respect), the only personality these characters have is driven by their nationalities. That’s simply not enough to make them interesting. They also lack any real interpersonal conflict, which contributes to the feeling that everything in this supposedly arduous mission comes to easily. With all of them getting along and all the selfless heroics, they all come across as a bit bland.

The writers also seemed to have been attempting a romantic subplot between Rains and Jensen. Aside from Rains flirting and Jensen rebuffing his advances, it doesn’t go anywhere in the first two acts. Unless it manages to do the job of undoing the problems with the characters’ lack of depth in the missing third act, it feels about as tacked-on and pointless as a romantic subplot can. Again, this all roots back to the lack of depth. It’s hard to show two people fall in love convincingly when they don’t have enough personality to make their attraction to one another clear.

It’s unlikely that even exceptional acting or skillful filmmaking will improve such a problematic script.

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