April 2010 Archives
April 28, 2010
Author: Christopher Keyser
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:At 1930s Harvard, a poor student must come to terms with the fact that his wealthy best friend is gay and has fallen in love with him.
Synopsis:In 1936, CHARLES KINER (18, ambitious and optimistic) arrives at Harvard College, determined to leave behind the boring old “Charlie” from Athens, Indiana. He enthusiastically discusses his college career with PROFESSOR PILLSBURY (50s, a blue blood), his academic advisor. Pillsbury reminds Charles that his scholarship doesn’t cover his full semester bill, so he must find a work-study job. Charles takes a job as a waiter in the freshman dining hall, where he’s treated poorly by the wealthy students. While crossing Harvard Yard one night, Charles sees a group of students having fun with some Radcliffe girls (including LIZA, to whom Charles finds himself attracted )as they stumble into a club. Charles attempts to follow them inside, but he’s kept out by the stern doorman. In the dining hall, Charles has the privilege of seeing the Krokodiloes (an a cappella singing group) perform. He’s amazed by the soaring harmonies and the apparent camaraderie, so he attempts to join the group. He quietly slinks into the auditions, where he’s all but ignored — until he actually starts singing. The others are dazzled by his lilting, angelic voice. Pillsbury warns Charles against joining the group, suggesting it will distract him from his studies.
When the Krokodiloes show up at his dorm room to announce he’s made the cut, Charles ignores Pillsbury’s advice and joins them enthusiastically. The other guys take him to buy his first tuxedo (the group’s official uniform), and Charles strikes up a fast friendship with ALEX, who volunteers to pay for Charles’s tux. They have lunch together, and Alex is amazed by the fact that Charles comes from Indiana and attends the school on scholarship. Pillsbury sees Charles among the Krokodiloes and chastises him for throwing away his college career for frivolities. After spending the entire night hanging out with his new friends, Charles is shocked to see the sun coming up. He excuses himself to go to work. Alex volunteers to pay the balance of Charles’s tuition, and when Charles resists, Alex points out that this will be the best use of his money so far. Charles, who would rather hang out with the Krokodiloes than work as a waiter, allows Alex to do this. Charles ditches a study session with his former coworkers at the dining hall to go to a fancy party in Newport and sing with the Krokodiloes. Liza and her family are at the party, as are Alex’s stuffy parents. Charles flirts with Liza. When he returns to Harvard, he struggles to complete an exam.
Charles calls Liza to ask her out on a date. She shoots him down, so he and the Krokodiloes stand outside her window, serenading her with “Liza” (the Gershwin song). This wins her over. Charles begs Alex to teach him how to dance in time for his date. Alex viciously refuses, but finally gives in. Charles is terrible, but Alex is great. They faux-flirt. Charles takes Liza out to a park to fly a kite. He’s horrible at it. He takes her dancing, and he’s horrible at that, too. Liza finds his ineptitude endearing. The end up in front of the Porcellian Club, an elite, male-only “final club.” They each acknowledge the fact that they don’t belong there — he’s too poor, and she’s a woman. Alex, on the other hand, does belong, and from inside the club, he witnesses Charles and Liza kiss each other goodnight.
Reality comes crashing down when Pillsbury informs Charles that he’s only pulling Bs and Cs, which are not good enough to remain on scholarship if he doesn’t improve before the end of the semester. Charles gripes that Roosevelt had a C average, but Alex observes that Roosevelt was rich. Alex tentatively invites Charles on a trip to New York, but Charles gripes that he needs to study to stay on scholarship. Alex writes Charles an IOU for the amount of the scholarship and takes Charles to New York. Charles is amazed by the size of the city. Alex takes Charles to a cool jazz club. The next morning, Charles takes the first train back so he can keep a date with Liza. Alex meets with his parents, who encourage him to find a girlfriend of his own (unaware Charles is dating her, they suggest Liza). Alex doesn’t show up for the next Kroks rehearsal, so Charles goes to his room to check on him. A drunken Alex angrily sends Charles away.
On the night before the big Harvard/Yale game, the Kroks and Yale’s Wiffenpoofs hold a joint concert. Charles is disappointed to learn Liza is ditching him for a lecture on “the Nazi problem.” When they reunite afterward, Liza’s too despondent to feign enthusiasm as Charles recounts the concert. She complains that the world is too scary to have fun. She announces they should sleep together, in defiance of the terrifying world in which they live. Charles is very enthusiastic about this idea, but neither of them can go back to their dorm rooms. Charles rents a tiny hotel room and takes an eternity removing his many layers of winter clothing, to Liza’s amusement. The next morning, Charles and Liza have breakfast with Liza’s parents. Her father is impressed to learn Charles overslept because he was “studying,” and offers to give Charles a tour of his brokerage house. After, Liza is irritated that her father would essentially offer Charles a job without knowing more about him than that Liza likes him. Charles urges her to tell her father how she feels, but she’s too afraid. Liza wonders why Charles never spends any time with Alex. Charles says he’s gotten weird, and Liza theorizes it’s because he’s jealous of their dating. She decides to fix Alex up on a double date, but Alex treats the other girl horribly and storms away from them. Charles confronts Alex about his behavior, and Alex lets it slip out that it’s Charles, not Liza, that he’s fallen in love with. Alex knows how wrong it is, doesn’t like the way he feels, but he can’t help it. Horrified, Charles flees.
Liza asks what is going on with Alex. Charles tells her she was right: he has a crush on Liza and is jealous of the time Charles is spending with her. Charles spends the entire holiday break frantically studying for final exams. Liza tries to cajole Charles into coming out, but he refuses. After the exam, Alex stands outside Charles’s windows, waiting. He apologizes to Charles about his feelings, wanting only to remain his friend. Charles tells him to keep away. Charles visits Liza, who has received a letter from Alex, spilling his guts about everything. Liza wants to know why Charles won’t talk to Alex. Enraged, Charles storms into the Porcellian Club to confront Alex. Alex tells Charles he’s spent his entire life bored, because he has everything, but now something matters to him, and he can’t simply ignore it. Charles orders him to stop talking about it. After the public confrontation, word gets out. The other Kroks move to kick Alex out of the group, and Charles does nothing to stop them.
Charles receives his final grades: still Bs and Cs. The fellowship committee revokes his scholarship. He goes to see Liza, who has learned about Alex getting kicked out of the Kroks. She dumps Charles. Charles is dragged to a party by the other Kroks, who ramble on and on about their petty, wealthy problems. Charles is going crazy, wanting to study and needing to find a job. Charles gets a job as a stock boy at a music store. Alex dines with his parents. His father has learned he’s a homosexual. His mother is shocked. Alex is thrown out of his house. Charles turns over a leaf, working his ass off (both at school and the store). One night, at the library, Liza decides to talk to Charles. She’s still angry that he turned his back on a friend in need. She points out that they both know what it’s like to want something desperately that they can’t have. Charles tells her she has no room to talk if she won’t talk to her father about a job.
Liza calls her father, but he doesn’t take her seriously. A drunken Alex shows up and commiserates. They both idly consider going to Spain to help in the war effort. Alex decides he’s going to cross the Charles River into Boston. Liza points out it’s not cold enough for the river to be frozen over, but Alex doesn’t care — he’ll swim across if he has to. Unable to stop him, Liza rushes to find Charles. Charles and Liza race for the river and find Alex in the cold water. He narrowly avoids drowning, thanks to Charles’s help. Liza tends to the two of them until they warm up. Charles and Alex argue about the stupidity of Alex’s actions, and they tentatively make amends. Charles rushes to Pillsbury’s office to turn in a paper. He witnesses Pillsbury get turned down for the job of Chairman of his department. Pillsbury tells Charles a late paper is automatically dropped two letter grades. Charles whines that this is unfair, that he’s working two jobs and taking four classes, but it’s not good enough. Pillsbury has no sympathy — he knows Charles is still spending time socializing and drinking instead of studying.
Desperate to make ends meet, Charles sells most of his possessions and begs for more hours at the store. The manager tells Charles he’d have to work full-time, plus overtime, to get what he needs to cover tuition. It’s impossible, so Charles faces facts and quits school. The bursar informs Charles that his bill for the spring term has already been paid in full. Charles knows Alex paid for it, so he instructs her to tear up the check and consider him gone. Charles visits Alex to tell him he can’t take his money. Charles is stuck working at the music store because he sold his train ticket back to Indiana and can’t afford another one. While there, he notices a book of photos of everyone who’s worked at the store since the 1880s. He’s surprised to find Pillsbury’s photo. Charles confronts Pillsbury about it. Pillsbury finally explains that he’s spent 30 years learning what he hoped he could teach Charles in six months: that status is everything, and he needs to accept who he is and stop trying to impress the blue bloods. Pillsbury disappointedly confesses he and his wife had a son who would have been Charles’s age, but he died of the Spanish flu as a baby. However, they started him a college fund, which has grown considerably over the past 20 years. Pillsbury offers it to Charles, who humbly accepts.
Liza invites Charles to a Radcliffe social. He playfully turns her down in favor of studying, but she insists. Alex is at the soiree. The three of them dance together. Later, Alex announces he’s going off to Spain, to drive an ambulance. Charles and Liza are shocked but sort of impressed. Alex tells them he’s realized he needs to do something that matters, for once. Pointedly directed at Liza, Alex asks if anyone wants to join him. Liza turns him down. Charles races to convince the Kroks to let Alex sing at a spring event at the Harvard President’s house. They’re reluctant at first, but Charles convinces them that Alex is better than all of them, including Charles. Present day: much older versions of Charles, Alex, and Liza reunite for the commencement. Charles and Alex embrace. Back in 1937, Charles and Liza receive a letter from Alex, declaring his love for both of them. On the soundtrack, the Krokodiloes sing “He Loves and She Loves” (another Gershwin song) as Charles and Liza cross Harvard Yard together.
Comments:A Great Education tells a compelling story in the most frustrating possible way. Although it contains strong, frequently witty dialogue, the stale class-warfare conflicts and cliché-ridden characters destroy any potential this script has. As written, it merits a pass.
The story starts well enough, with fresh-faced Charles arriving at Harvard and finding difficulty navigating this strange new world. The writer does a nice job of evoking the late-’30s period throughout the script. However, things go awry fairly quickly. Although the writer evidently wants audiences to believe Charles really has to struggle to get some social standing at Harvard, it all happens so quickly and with such low stakes that it all seems far too easy. Especially when Alex pays for Charles’s tuition, allowing him to quit his job and pursue social activities, Charles doesn’t seem to face any real challenges until the third act.
The second act presents Alex’s homosexuality as a big twist, which is a huge problem in the script because it’s so obvious. Had the writer depicted this solely as a shocking revelation for Charles, and not for the audience, it would be fine. However, the way it’s portrayed will probably result in more eyes rolling with annoyance than popping out with surprise. It also causes the story to lose some of its focus. The first act suggests this is a story about a poor kid trying to make it in the world of the wealthy, but in the second half, all the focus shifts to Alex’s homosexuality, how it affects Charles, how it affects Alex, how it affects Liza — how it affects pretty much everyone. Understandably, given the time period and the status-conscious characters, it makes sense that this would change everything for the characters. It just feels more like a distraction from Charles’s struggles to stay afloat at Harvard than a well-developed storyline.
The third act wraps everything up tidily, but not satisfactorily. Professor Pillsbury turning into Charles’s benefactor is an overly simplistic way to keep him in Harvard. Alex’s decision to make something of himself rings false for the character. Liza’s many twists and turns all feel arbitrary, motivated by the plot more than anything consistent in her character.
These story problems all speak to major problems with the characters. The writer tries to devote equal time to both Charles and Alex, but that ultimately leads to both of them getting the short shrift. As mentioned, Charles’s struggles to remain in Harvard are always resolved too quickly or easily to really reveal his true character. He just worries a lot, then things work out without him making much of an effort. It’s evident that he’s desperate to please the rich kids, but even this he accomplishes with too little effort.
Similarly, Alex’s struggle feel too contrived to really empathize with him. Actually, most of his struggle occur off-screen, so the agony of him coming to terms with his feelings and sexual identity never comes across as much more than a plot device to drive conflict between Charles, Alex, and Liza. When the writer does finally decide we should pay attention to Alex, it’s too little, too late. Like Charles, everything’s explained too easily: he’s drunk, or he’s confused, or he’s figured everything out and will now do something important to redeem his years of idle loafing. It’s frustratingly artificial, lacking the depth or complexity one might expect from this sort of story.
Liza and Pillsbury, the only other characters with anything close to depth, just come across as lazy clichés (the older mentor who’s a mirror image of the youthful protagonist, the rebellious woman who reflects modern views ahead of her time). The potential for a good story — actually, several good stories — exists in this script, but it’s both too unfocused and too happy to rest on lazy clichés to be truly effective without significant work.
April 29, 2010
Author: Hossein Amini
Writer’s Potential: 4
Logline:After a stunt driver falls in love with a beautiful woman, he agrees to serve as wheelman for a bank heist spearheaded by the woman’s ex-con husband.
Synopsis:In Los Angeles, a man known only as DRIVER plans out a mysterious route on a map. He visits his friend, SHANNON (male, a grizzled old mechanic), who provides Driver with a white Civic. Driver waits impatiently in the Civic as two thieves rob a huge electronic store. He listens to the Clippers game on the radio. The thieves are caught by a security guard and must shoot their way out. They barely make it to the Civic, but the police have already been alerted. Driver has to make a daring escape through downtown L.A. Just when it seems like he’s eluded the police and blended into the heavy night traffic, a police car catches sight of the Civic and gives chase again. Driver tries to listen to the Clippers game and the police scanner simultaneously, and once the game ends, we understand why: he reaches the Staples Center just as crowds of people flood the parking lot, dozens of them getting into Civics identical to Driver’s. The police lose Driver, and he and the thieves get away unscathed.
The next day, Driver and Shannon work on a film set as stunt drivers and mechanics for the cherried-out vintage cars required for this 1970s-set production. Both Shannon and Driver hate the work. Shannon yearns to earn enough to buy their on stock car and get Driver racing, but they’re along way from that, even with their illegal nighttime activities. Driver performs a stunt maneuver with an incompetent actor who insists on doing his own driving. Driver is such an expert that he makes the actor look great. The crew applaud the actor, while Driver goes unnoticed. Shannon asks mobster BERNIE ROSE to invest in his stock car, promising a return of millions once Driver starts winning big races. Bernie balks when Driver says he doesn’t have any money himself. Driver stops for dinner at a redneck bar populated by lowlives. A man who once worked with Driver asks him to work as wheelman again. Driver refuses.
Driver goes to his apartment building and discovers he lives down the hall from IRINA, an attractive Latina. They have an awkward moment together on the elevator before going to their respective homes. Shannon and Driver take Bernie to a dirt track to test drive a stock car. Bernie’s impressed with Driver’s maneuvering. Driver and Shannon haggle with the car owner, while Bernie agrees to invest in their plans. Driver spots Irina and her son, BENICIO (6), at a supermarket. Driver quietly observes them. He drives past Irina as she struggles home with the groceries and offers to help. Irina offers Driver a drink, then makes him feel bad for refusing, so he stays. She asks a lot of typical getting-to-know-you questions, but she notices Driver’s terse responses and lack of enthusiasm, so she starts talking about herself instead. She explains that Benicio’s father is in prison for attempting to rob a bank. When Irina finds out Driver is a stunt-driver, she invites herself to the film set, to show Benicio something he’d enjoy. On set, Shannon and Benicio get along extremely well. Driver and Irina quietly continue to get to know each other. Driver finds himself falling for her in spite of himself. When they’re saying goodbye, he hesitates and doesn’t kiss her.
Another day, at Irina’s apartment, Driver and Benicio watch cartoons dubbed into Spanish while Benicio narrates. An emergency comes up, and Driver offers to drive Irina. She reluctantly explains that her husband cut a deal and is being released from prison. Driver isn’t sure if this will change their budding relationship, until she explains that she must stay with her husband for Benicio’s sake. Both Driver and Irina are disappointed by this development. Irina kisses Driver passionately. The next day, Irina and many of their friends throw a getting-out party for STANDARD, Irina’s wife. He seems like a nice guy, but he’s not terribly enthusiastic about Driver being at the party. Benicio doesn’t stop talking about Driver, and he keeps seeing looks exchanged between Driver and Irina. He politely threatens Driver. Later, on set, Shannon gets into an argument with an assistant director, which prompts Driver to beat the living crap out of them, getting both Driver and Shannon fired. Driver returns to his apartment to discover Standard in the parking garage, bloodied and beaten, with a shocked Benicio as a witness to it. Standard pathetically asks Driver to use his apartment to clean up so Irina doesn’t see him in this condition. Standard correctly identifies Driver as an ex-con. He confesses that he’s in deep to a gang for debts he collected in prison, and they now want to collect. He says he has a “sweet score” lined up to fix all his problems.
Driver, Shannon, and Bernie try to sell NINO (Bernie’s business partner) on their stock car idea. He’s not as easily convinced as Bernie. Standard shows up at Shannon’s garage and offers Driver the opportunity to be his wheelman. Driver agrees to help Standard, for Irina and Benicio. Standard introduces Driver to COOK, the mastermind of this bank heist. Cook obnoxiously lays out the plans. Thrilled that things are coming together, Standard buys a huge chicken and brings Driver home for dinner. Irina is suspicious about the two of them together. Driver test drives and buys an old Dodge sedan. He maps various routes to the bank, various avenues of escape, memorizing the terrain, street names, speed traps, everything. Irina confronts Driver about Standard’s sneaking out at night and talking big to Benicio. She wonders why Driver would agree to help a failure. Driver tries to talk Standard out of the heist, but Standard believes it’s such a sure thing, he can’t say no.
The heist goes off seemingly without a hitch: Cook, Standard, DAVE, and BLANCHE hold the place up. The manager takes Cook to a safe deposit box, where he retrieves a duffel bag filled with cash. Standard eyes this suspiciously. They don’t take any other money. Outside, Driver notices a suspicious souped-up Roush Mustang parked down the street. Cook gets down on the floor and pretends to be a hostage while the others make their escape. Standard and Dave don’t notice a young guard follow them outside. He kills them both. Only Blanche gets to Driver’s Dodge alive. He reluctantly speeds away, taking notice of the Mustang. After a long chase, Driver leads the Mustang to a speed trap. He slows down to the speed limit while the Mustang plows past the cops, who pull it over. Driver and Blanche hole up in a cheap motel, where they find $3 million in cash in the duffel bag. Blanche insists she was only supposed to get $30,000. They see a news report in which the young guard says they shot “both” robbers and there were no accomplices. Driver realizes Cook always planned to double-cross them, and that the guard was an inside man whose sole function was to kill them. Driver assumes the Mustang was there to serve the same purpose. Driver thinks Blanche was in on the setup. She admits she was but that nobody was supposed to get hurt — they were just supposed to get much less money than the actual take. An assassin sneaks through the bathroom window of the motel and kills Blanche. After a lengthy, brutal fight, Driver kills the assassin and steals his car.
Shannon takes Driver to a shady doctor to get patched up. Driver seeks out Irina at Standard’s funeral. She’s angry at him. Driver tries to explain about Standard’s debt, and she softens — until she finds out he, too, is an ex-con. She leaves. Shannon asks Bernie if he knows anything about Cook. Bernie says Cook is a dangerous man who works out of a strip club. Armed with that information, Driver goes to the strip club and is about to beat the hell out of Cook — when he sees Cook has had the hell beaten out of him already. Driver realizes Cook is a shill for someone else. When Cook won’t give up his bosses, Driver beats him up and takes his cell phone. Driver calls a number that appears multiple times on Cook’s call log, and he’s connected with an enforcer in a TAN SUIT. When Driver tells him he has $3 million, Tan Suit connects Driver to his boss — Nino, Bernie’s business partner. Driver doesn’t recognize the voice. Driver agrees to hand over the money in exchange for being let out of this game completely. Nino agrees.
Driver goes back to his apartment, explaining to Irina that he’s leaving but he wants Irina and Benecio to come with him, so they can get away from this life. Tan Suit (not recognized by Driver, who only spoke with him on the phone) and another enforcer follow Driver and Irina to the restaurant where she waits tables. They attack Driver at the restaurant. He manages to get away, making sure Irina’s all right before fleeing. Driver meets with Shannon, wondering how they could have tracked Driver. Shannon realizes Bernie is the connection. Driver asks Shannon to rig a car for him so he can get away cleanly. Nino explains to Bernie that the money belonged to a Philadelphia mobster who intended to set up shop in L.A. Bernie is angry that Nino would defy their bosses. The only solution is to kill Driver and Shannon, to prevent anyone from ever knowing who stole the money. Bernie agrees to it. He kills Cook, then goes after Shannon. Shannon’s resigned to his fate. He allows Bernie to kill him without a fight.
Driver arrives at Shannon’s to pick up the car. He finds Shannon’s corpse. He goes to Nino’s restaurant and follows two luxury cars — one with Nino, the other with bodyguards — onto the PCH. With spectacular stunt driving — including an intentional repeat of his stunt with the incompetent actor in the first act — Driver is able to take out both cars. Nino’s the only one who survives, and barely. Driver takes one of the enforcers’ guns and shoots Nino dead with it. He meets with Bernie, who’s pragmatic about the whole situation. He agrees to hand over the money if Bernie gives him a decent head start to avoid any future mob enforces. Bernie agrees, but just as he’s about to hand over the money, Bernie sticks Driver with a switchblade. Driver slits Bernie’s throat with it and takes the money. He abandons his car in a large, long-term parking lot, then calls Irina and gives her the license number, explaining he’s left some money in it for her and Benicio. At death’s door, Driver hot-wires a Camaro and speeds away.
Comments:Drive can’t figure out if it wants to be a mindless action flick or a brooding study of a criminal who wants to reform. The end result is a script that’s simultaneously tedious and ridiculous. None of the characters are interesting or developed enough to care about, the story is filled with holes, and the action sequences are both infrequent and dull as dirt. As written, it merits a pass.
The story opens on a sour note, with a seemingly endless robbery and chase sequence that seeks to throw the audience in medias res. The most compelling — and confusing — thing about this sequence is Driver’s mysterious obsession with the Clippers game. While this leads to a moderately clever payoff, it isn’t worth 10 pages of stale car-chase antics to get there. From there, the script gets bogged down in the bland Driver-Irina relationship, which is supposed to drive the rest of the action. Their romance simply never comes across as intense or interesting enough to believe Driver would do so much — including possibly sacrificing himself at the end — just for her and her adorable moppet.
The addition of Standard in the second act could have served the Driver-Irina relationship well. He essentially exists to keep them apart, even after his death, but because the writer never does the job of making their relationship significant in the first act, not much in the second or third act holds any weight. This includes the goofy twist — that Nino and Bernie, his alleged business partners, were coincidentally behind the whole bank heist and now want Driver dead — which is patently obvious from the moment Bernie starts taking such an active interest in Driver’s driving ability. This leads to the disastrous third act plot hole, which suggests that Driver will be chased by the Mafia for the rest of his (probably short) life, yet Irina and Benicio will be fine with $3 million in Mob money. Nobody from the Mafia is going to come after the wife of a man publicly identified as one of the slain bank robbers? Not even when she quits her job, moves to a better part of town, and enrolls Benicio in private school? Really?
The characters, simply put, are a brooding bunch of sourpusses. The script barely has a moment of levity, which contributes to its leaden pace. They’re all angry people with rotten lives, but none of them are angry in interesting ways, and there’s very little that’s compelling about their rotten lives. A believable, well-developed love triangle between Driver, Irina, and Standard could have gone a long way toward making these people interesting, or at least vulnerable, but this isn’t that. Because the characters rarely have any believable motivations for their actions (the closest is Standard and his debt), they exist solely to drive a plot forward. It would be nice if these characters had real personalities, and did foolish things for clear reasons that may not be smart, but are at least in line with who they are and how they act.
The dialogue is atypically atrocious, which perhaps contributes to the feeling that these characters lack dimension or personality. Every character has pretty much the same speech pattern, regardless of age, occupation, or fluency in English, and that speech pattern too often resembles the florid, exposition-heavy monologues of an Agatha Christie novel instead of the gritty tough-guy patois a script like this needs.
Author: PJ Hogan
Writer’s Potential: 3
Logline:A family is turned upside down when a woman is committed to an insane asylum and her husband brings home a hitchhiker to serve as nanny to his children.
Synopsis:CORAL MOOCHMORE (16) is convinced she’s schizophrenic. At age 13, she attempted suicide by jumping off the veranda of her home and landed on father BARRY’s brand new car, knocking him unconscious. After consulting with the DSM-IV, Coral believes the only symptom of schizophrenia she lacks is voices. Her sisters (LEANN, KAYLEEN, JANE, and MICHELLE) tease her because they each show more evidence of mental illness (particularly Michelle, who hears voices in her head) than Coral does. Meanwhile, mother SHIRLEY is going insane in her own right, because of Barry’s frequent absences from family gatherings and the children running her ragged. She wishes they could be more like the Von Trapps from The Sound of Music, or at least like her seemingly perfect neighbor, NANCY. Everyone in the town of Dolphin’s Head thinks Shirley is either stupid or crazy, including Shirley’s sister, DORIS, who treats Shirley more like a child than an adult. Doris suggests Shirley go shopping to cure what ails her, so Shirley buys furniture and major appliances — so many that they crowd the house and end up on the lawn.
Meanwhile, Coral works at a local water park whose main attraction is a shark show featuring the corpse of a shark that allegedly killed a prime minister. Coral questions her boss, TREVOR, about whether or not it’s true. Trevor tells her to shine a flashlight through the shark. She does — and sees a dismembered human head inside the shark’s body. When Barry finally comes home and finds all the furniture, Barry has her committed at an insane asylum. The girls run Barry even more ragged than Shirley. While driving home from work, he spots a “normal-looking” hitchhiker (SHAZ) walking along the road with a terrifying dog. He offers Shaz a ride and brings her to the house to take care of the girls. Shaz quickly reveals herself to be more insane than Shirley — frequently cawing like a crow and rambling incoherently. The girls, particularly Coral, hate her. However, Shaz’s brash, in-your-face attitude wins them over when she starts insulting and barking orders at Nancy and Doris.
Coral takes her friend, TROUT, to see the shark show after closing time. She flashes her light into the shark, which freaks Trout out — but he realizes it’s just a rubber mask inside the shark. He kisses her, which leads to some heavy petting, which almost leads to sex — but Trevor jabs Trout with a prod, fearing he was attacking Coral. Trevor takes Coral out to dinner to warn her against males. Coral says she doesn’t mind, since she’s going insane. Trevor tells her he came close to insanity, after his daughter died and wife lost her mind. Coral sympathizes, mentioning Shirley is in the loony bin. At the loony bin, Shirley tells her therapist (unseen at first) about her history with Barry: he date-raped her, she got pregnant with Coral, and the happy ending is that he called for another date. The therapist is revealed to the audience as Shaz, who gives Shirley a lot of hackneyed advice about how to cope with her problems. She explains that there’s “defensive coping,” which is what Shirley’s doing, and “offensive coping,” which is what she should do. Another patient, SANDRA, recognizes Shaz and wonders why she’s impersonating a doctor. Shirley is too out of it to realize Shaz is deranged.
Shaz returns to the Moochmore home and drags the girls out of bed in the middle of the night. She forces them to climb a mountain, and once they reach the precipice, she gleefully announces that they can do anything, because whenever things get rough, they can remember they climbed this mountain. The girls discuss their feelings of mental illness. Shaz, who also has a copy of the DSM-IV, observes that everyone in their neighborhood is insane, if one went by clinical definitions. She observes that, although legend has it that Australia was formed as a penal colony, the truth is that it’s where the British sent its insane. Shaz takes the girls to a local bakery and tells them she stubbornly refuses to understand “conformity,” and as a result she’s being pursued by scientists. She needs the girls to form a protective army against the forces who want her. The snooty girls who work at the bakery, who once insulted Shirley and browbeat her into buying food she doesn’t want, try to pull the same shenanigans on Shaz, but she insults them and points out they suffer from “Sadistic Personality Disorder.” Then, she slams her DSM-IV shut on one of the girls’ faces. All the girls are impressed — except Coral, who is too crippled by low self-esteem to follow Shaz’s free-spirited advice. Shaz tells Coral she once threatened a doctor with a knife after he told her she only had six months to live. He took back his proclamation, and she lived longer than six months. Coral remains unsure.
Detectives with a very good description of Shaz come to the Moochmore home, looking for her. While Shaz hides, the girls give a false description of Shaz to throw them off her scent. Shaz brings Sandra and the girls to Nancy’s house, where they torment her by throwing boomerangs through her windows and mucking up her extremely tidy house and yard. Nancy overreacts, violently throwing them out of the house and burning all of her furniture, which results in her being sent to the asylum. Coral takes Trout to the shark show in the middle of the night. While they have sex, both Trevor and Shaz prowl around the couple — and Trevor recognizes Shaz. He tries to kill her, but she flees. Shaz drags Barry home from work by implying someone has died — turns out, she’s talking about the chicken she roasted. Barry is enraged. He treats Shaz horribly, so in the middle of the night she sits on his chest with her frightening dog growling at him as she shouts about his abuse and neglect of his children. Shaz forces Barry into the crawlspace under the house to fend for himself. Down there, they find Michelle, totally disoriented from the voices in her head. Coral realizes, based on Shaz’s ranting, that she was married to Trevor. Shaz tells Coral that Trevor’s full of shit — he tells everyone both she and their daughter died, but she’s alive, and their daughter’s being held by Trevor against his will. Once things calm down, Barry calls a psychiatrist to help Michelle.
Doris discovers her expensive doll collection is missing. Shaz announces she’s blackmailing Doris — she’ll return the dolls if Doris goes to the mental hospital and reassures Shirley. Doris does so, ineptly, under Shaz’s supervision. Barry shows up at the hospital, surprised to see Shaz and Doris there, and even more surprised to learn Shirley thinks Shaz is a doctor. Meanwhile, Coral and Shaz spy on Trevor, figuring out his routine, trying to identify where he’s keeping Shaz’s daughter and when the best time to get her would be. Now back at home, Shirley is surprised and terrified to find five black, shadowy figures surround her in the kitchen — it turns out to be the girls, prepared to go after Shaz’s daughter. Just then, the police pull up, led by Barry and Doris. They’re after Shaz. Shaz and the girls flee in her car, with Doris’s doll collection, which they toss out the window. Coral tries to convince Shaz to stop. She’s learned from Trevor that the daughter, Kim, died of a drug overdose. Shaz insists the shark at her — the one he claims ate the prime minister. Coral accuses Shaz of being a con artist, going from town to town, propping up damaged people so she can use them for her own gain before moving on, and now that she’s finally found Trevor, she’ll just betray them and move on. The other girls refuse to help Shaz, so she goes by herself. She goes to the shark show and attempts to retrieve the shark. Before she can, the police arrive and arrest her. In the hospital, Shaz accuses the girls of betraying her, but Shirley confesses she told the police where to find her.
Trevor fires Coral. He says that he hopes Shaz ends up killing herself, which will make everyone’s lives much easier. Coral is horrified. Shirley goes to see Barry at work and discovers he’s cheating on her. She’s enraged and leaves him. Coral drugs Trevor, and Trout ties him up and keeps watch. He explains that Coral and the girls went off to break Shaz out of the hospital and steal the shark. Shirley tries to delicately convince the nurses to release Shaz. When they won’t, she and the girls sing “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music, and Shaz hears them and comes running. Trevor breaks free of his restraints and zaps Trout with the shark prod. Shaz and the girls try to load the shark tank on the back of a rented truck, but the hydraulic lift can’t support the weight and it rolls away. They chase after the tank, just as Trevor arrives. He tells Shaz to stay away from the tank, and when she won’t, he shoots it, shattering the glass and releasing the formaldehyde. Trevor ties a rope around the shark’s head and attaches it to the truck’s winch, but everything goes sideways and both Trevor and Shaz are pulled into the ocean, along with the shark, which drags them down further.
Some time later, a distraught Barry starts randomly singing “Edelweiss” during a campaign fundraiser. He’s laughed at by donors, but Shirley and the girls show up and join him in a rousing chorus. Shaz mysteriously reappears in Doris’s home, standing with her pants around her knees, aiming her rear end at Doris’s most treasured doll, a lighter held beneath it. She unleashes a fart, and the blue flame destroys all of her dolls. Shaz and her dog run out through the countryside.
Comments:Like the character Shaz, Mental is an incoherent mess. The scattershot story is exceptionally rambling and unfocused, the characters are overloaded with cloying quirks, and the frequent jarring tonal shifts don’t exactly help the script feel like a cohesive whole. As written, it merits a pass.
The story is a complete disaster, chaotic both structurally and tonally. The writer seems to have decided he wants to write a script about the Shaz character, but he doesn’t have any idea where to go with the story, so it just ambles in whatever direction seems interesting or amusing. This never jells into a coherent story. It’s not even clear who the main character is supposed to be — it starts out focused firmly on Coral, then moves on to Shirley until she’s institutionalized, then moves on to Shaz, then flips back to Coral. This is not a case of a layered ensemble each getting roughly equal time. This is purely a lack of focus.
The problems start in what can generously be called the first act. The Moochmores and their many quirks are introduced, but none of the characters’ actions, or their reasons for their actions, are ever really clear. Nothing anyone does has any real motivation, and none of the events depicted has any dramatic thrust. It’s simply a series of events, not building toward anything, not generating any suspense — and not even really generating any laughs. Granted, this is a comedy about mentally ill people, but the fact that it’s a comedy doesn’t forgive the lack of structure, and the fact that the characters are mentally ill doesn’t mean everything they do is arbitrary. There should, at the very least, be a consistent internal logic for the characters’ actions, even if they strike the audience as laughably insane.
Things don’t improve once Shaz hits the scene in the second act. The writer clearly wants her to be a memorable comic creation, but like the Moochmores in the first act, everything she does is frustratingly random and unmotivated. Worse than the Moochmores, much of what she does is incredibly creepy (wielding knives, siccing dogs on people, tearing apart others’ homes, forcing the children to climb mountains in the middle of the night, breaking into a mental hospital and pretending to be a doctor, etc.), which would cause any audience member to wonder about Barry’s sanity — but strangely, the writer never questions that. Barry picking up a cartoonishly insane hitchhiker and leaving them alone with his five underage children is perfectly acceptable in the mind of the writer — until he changes his mind late in the second act and decides Barry is neglectful and evil.
The story pretty much peters out in the third act, as the writer scrambles to tie up loose ends that aren’t all that loose, and aren’t all that interesting. He attempts to bring some pathos to Shaz’s character by chalking her insanity up to the death of her child, as well as backtracking to explain all those unclear, seemingly unmotivated actions in the first act, but that doesn’t undo the damage of how frustrating and confusing those early scenes are. The writer has already lost the audience, so all these long overdue explanations of weird behavior have arrived far too late to really matter.
The frantic pace and slipshod execution of the story does a lot of damage to the characters. Beyond the general lack of motivation and the writer’s apparent uncertainty about who the protagonist and antagonist are, each character is so overloaded with quirks, actual personalities fail to form. They’re just walking wackiness machines, doing and saying weird things that are supposed to be funny, but it’d all be a lot funnier if anything they did made even a tiny bit of sense. Coral and Shaz receive the most development, by virtue of the fact that they’re in the most scenes, but nobody — including these two — really seems to grow or change as a result of the events in the story. The family is brought together at the end through a lazy musical outburst, but Shaz isn’t exactly Marry Poppins. Her impact on the family, and the family’s impact on her, is never made clear.
April 30, 2010
Author: Steve Carpenter
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:A ragtag group of dogs escape from a kennel and, with nowhere else to turn, enlist to become police dogs.
Synopsis:CLINT (a serious-minded beagle) and DONUT (a fat bulldog who lacks impulse control) enter a supermarket, with hopes of stealing some dog food for survival. Donut gets distracted with the people food and goes nuts, running around the store, shoveling as much into his mouth as will fit. Shoppers are disgusted and terrified. The police are called in, and a few K9 German shepherds apprehend Clint and Donut. They’re turned over to DOBSON and CLARK, animal control officers. In their cell at the pound, they meet HECTOR (a lady’s-man chihuahua), SAMANTHA (an angry mutt), and BERT (a perpetually terrified, incontinent yellow labrador). Nobody likes Clint and Donut until Clint tells them he was a dog in the Secret Service, who was shamefully fired after sniffing what he thought was a bomb but was actually an empty gas can. A mother and son arrive at their cell to pick a dog. Samantha and Bert play up their cuteness, desperate to leave. Donut notices the kid has a corn dog, devours it, and unleashes an epic fart. The mother and son are both horrified, so they leave empty-handed.
The next morning, Clint overhears a TV news report about a new initiative to train dogs of all breeds to become police dogs, to save money on the expensive German shepherds. Clint thinks they should all escape and enlist in the program, but Donut thinks things are great in the kennel. Hector lets them in on a secret: if nobody comes to claim or adopt them after 30 days, they’re taken through the mysterious “red door.” Nobody knows what’s beyond the red door, but the dogs who go through it don’t come back. Terrified, Donut agrees to Clint’s plan. Dobson and Clark torment the dogs instead of feeding them properly. When Samantha rebels, Dobson decides it’s time for her to go through the red door. Clint has come up with a plan for escape, but it’s undermined by Hector, who’s tiny enough to walk through the gaps in the bars. He leaps up and pushes a button to unlock the cell doors. They flee, narrowly escaping their captors, and get on a bus headed for the police station. Samantha thanks Clint for saving her life.
At the K9 training academy, the mayor is irritated to discover no dogs have shown up. Before long, Clint and the gang arrive, to the irritation of Drill Instructor PIKE. He’s a stereotypical, in-your-face D.I., who browbeats his crop of “soldiers,” much to their fear and annoyance. Samantha responds with anger, and Bert pees on Pike, but he insists he’ll whip them into shape over the course of the six-week program. The German shepherd K9s scoff at this weak bunch. That night, the other dogs are angry at Clint for dragging them into this. Hector tries to escape, but can’t squeeze through the chainlink fence. At dawn, Pike wakes the dogs noisily and forces them to run a grueling obstacle course. None of them have the strength or stamina to complete it. Clint comes the closest. Pike has the German shepherd officers run it, just to show the others how pathetic they are.
Dobson and Clark show up to retrieve the dogs, but Pike refuses to give them up. They claim to have an order from the county, but Pike points out it’s merely a parking ticket. Annoyed, Dobson and Clark leave, vowing to think of some way to get their dogs back. That night, the dogs are despondent. Donut is so upset, he can’t even eat. He confesses that, as a puppy, he was the runt of the litter, so he always had to struggle to get fed. When he got a human family, he would eat everything in sight, so no humans would keep him for long. Dobson and Clark break into their kennel. Clint shows the others how to flatten, and the two guards assume the kennel is as empty as the others. They leave, disappointed and empty-handed.
The next day, Pike introduces them to the “sniffing” section of the obstacle course. Clint is too traumatized by his Secret Service experience to participate. Pike is angered and disappointed by Clint’s refusal to participate. He sends Clint to the “Square of Shame.” To Clint’s surprise, Pike commiserates. He recalls being a wild child — until a K9 officer took a chunk out of his arm, the wake-up call he desperately needed. That night, Clint has trouble sleeping. Samantha sees him staring out at the night. She tells Clint he’s lucky to have a second chance — most dogs don’t get that. Samantha confesses she ended up here because her anger caused her to lash out at kids, and she started nipping. Clint tells her to focus the anger and use it in the training. Samantha tells Clint to do the same.
A montage depicts their continued training: marching, slowly improving at the obstacle course, sniffing suitcases, learning commands. Meanwhile, Dobson and Clark invest in a “compliance collar” (one of those steel collars on a long pole that police use when confronted with dangerous dogs) to retrieve their missing dogs. They hear pounding from behind the red door. Dobson opens it, revealing WOLFF (“Dog the Bounty Hunter, but nastier”). Wolff runs a secret dogfighting ring and needs more dogs. Dobson and Clark are out of dogs to sell him, but they promise him five vicious, police-trained dogs — for a higher price than normal. Wolff agrees to it. Pike sends the dogs on a ride-along with human officers. Most of the cops match the temperaments of their animal charges (Donut is paired with a fat, lazy cop, for instance). As a result, they all get excellent commendations for the humans. Pike is shocked by the praise, because they’re all still terrible at the obstacle course. However, as a show of good faith, he gives them a day off before the final test. The dogs all go to the beach to blow off steam. Even Pike shows up.
On the morning of their big test, Clint inflates Samantha’s self-esteem by telling her that her mutt heritage doesn’t mean she’s “nothing” — it means she’s “everything.” Donut struggles to get over the climbing wall. He manages to do it with Clint’s encouragement. Although all the dogs start off well, each makes a series of mistakes that causes them to fail the test: Donut falls off the balance beam, Hector is flung through the air by a teeter-totter, Bert urinates all over a man in a padded suit he’s supposed to attack, and Samantha attacks the same man without being instructed to by Pike. This leaves Clint, who gets all the way to the suitcase-sniffing exercise before refusing to continue — partly out of fear of failure, partly because he’d rather be with his friends than be on the force. Clint sees Dobson and Clark in the Animal Control van, waiting. The dogs have one more night to stay in the training center kennel before they’re released.
In the middle of the night, Pike unlocks the gate, announcing that he’s duty bound to turn them over to Animal Control — unless they escape. As they’re leaving, the dogs notice Dobson and Clark sneaking into the kennel. They find the empty one, but undeterred, they go to the kennel filled with the German shepherd officers, luring them into their van with steaks. Pike sees what Dobson and Clark are doing and orders them to stop — so Dobson knocks Pike unconscious. They drag him into the van. Reluctantly, the dogs agree they must save the others. They have to rely on Clint’s nose to find out where Dobson and Clark are leading them. Clint doesn’t have much faith, but the others prop him up. He leads them to a construction site, where Dobson and Clark wait for Wolff to arrive.
Clint and the others launch Hector across the construction site. He slams into Dobson and Clark, surprising them. Dobson tries to attack with a 2x4, but ends up whacking Clark instead. Clint leads the other dogs to attack Dobson and Clark. They wrap the pair in a big net and toss them into a vat of wet cement. Bert frees the German shepherds from the van. They revel in their victory, but it’s short-lived — Wolff shows up and holds Pike hostage with his gun. He orders all the dogs to come with him, or he’ll kill Pike. Menacing, Clint keeps moving forward, causing Wolff to keep moving back, until he backs up against an electric fence and is fried to death. The dogs and Pike celebrate. Samantha asks how Clint knew Wolff wouldn’t shoot. Clint proudly declares he could smell the fear. At the K9 graduation ceremony, Pike proudly introduces the new team of officers to an excited crowd. Pike leads the dogs on a march through the beach. Over the credits, each of the dogs explains (through Cops-like interviews) how they’ve each managed to overcome obstacles to become successful police officers. Clint and Samantha are married and have a litter of puppies. Pike arrives to lead their litter on a march.
Comments:The Dog Squad: 3D is a cute concept for a kids’ movie, and not much else. Overall, the story lacks conflict and is loaded with filler to pad it out to feature length. As written, it merits a pass.
The first act competently establishes the characters and the major sources of conflict (overcoming their own fears while avoiding Animal Control). However, from the moment the dogs arrive at the K9 training center until the moment in the third act when Dobson and Clark kidnap Pike and the German shepherds, not much of note happens to the characters. They train poorly, feel anxiety about the difficulties of the training, and continue to train poorly. There’s not much jeopardy for the dogs, as they’re well-protected from Animal Control when they’re within the training center (and there’s no mention of them being turned back over to Animal Control until the third act, so there’s no suspense there), and the goal to successfully run the obstacle course and become police officers is played with the lowest possible stakes. It may seem strange to talk about high stakes and suspense in a kids’ movie, but giving kids cute, anthropomorphic dogs will only hold their attention for so long before they get bored and move on to something more compelling.
In the third act, something interesting finally happens: after failing their test, the dogs are forced to prove their worth and foil Dobson and Clark’s kidnapping scheme. It all goes by so quickly and easily, however, that it’s an unsatisfying conclusion to a mostly unsatisfying story. Worse than that, the script hits on a few too many uncomfortable adult themes (ostensibly to keep parents interested), such as depictions of dogfighting, choking animals, holding hostages at gunpoint, and dialogue frequently laced with sexual innuendo and, for some reason, politics. It’s creepy and off-putting to find material like this in a kids’ movie, and it causes the script to suffer from a problem not uncommon to kids’ fare: it’s too adult for kids, but too kid-friendly for adults. Some of this “adult” material exists solely to attempt to raise the stakes, but it does a poor job of that, so why does it need to be here?
The characters don’t really rise about the level of stereotype, but they’re about as well-developed as they need to be for a kids’ movie. Each has a well-defined hurdle to overcome, and although their struggles create a lot of unnecessary repetition in the second act, it leaves the audience with the decent (if overused) moral that people shouldn’t let fear prevent them from succeeding. Clint is effective as the protagonist, the other dogs are moderately entertaining in their ineptness, and Dobson and Clark are decent enough as villains, although they come across more as stupid than sinister, which again contributes to the lack of jeopardy.
The only character who doesn’t really work is Wolff: the only thing he contributes to the story are the disturbing elements that don’t quite work (he’s the dogfighting ringleader, and he’s the one threatening to murder people at the end). He also has the unfortunate side effect of making Dobson and Clark seem like idiotic patsies instead of actual villains. Wolff, himself, is not really the villain of the story. Everything he does is just a failed attempt to raise the stakes, but his presence inadvertently lowers them by deflecting the “light-hearted menace” Dobson and Clark should possess.
Despite reservations about the quality of the story, an effective promotional campaign will likely draw a sizable audience in its opening weekend. However, positive word-of-mouth is bound to be low, as are DVD/Blu-ray sales.
Author: Emilio Mauro and Michael Yebba
Writer’s Potential: 4
Logline:A Marine-turned-firefighter grapples with drug addiction and criminal friends.
Synopsis:Marine MIKE KELLY (23) drunkenly picks a fight in a biker bar, to the chagrin of his wife, LISA. One of his opponents pulls a knife and nearly severs Mike’s thumb. Two years later, Mike arrives for his first day at a South Boston firehouse. His lieutenant, O’BRIEN, introduces Mike to the rest of the crew: McNULTY, NEE, RODRIGUEZ, WASHINGTON. As the new probationary officer, they sentence Mike to cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms. Later, Mike picks up daughter AMY (8) from Lisa’s place. Things are tense between Mike and Lisa. That night, Mike is awakened by some old friends (including DANNY), who insist he must go with them to see JOE, recently released from prison. Mike gets a neighbor to babysit Amy while he goes to a pub to meet Joe. After talking about women and Mike’s new job, Joe asks Mike to join him on a drug-dealing plan. Mike refuses, saying he’s clean now.
Some time later, Mike catches his first fire. The other guys good-naturedly mock his inexperience. They take Mike out to a bar to celebrate. When he comes home, Joe, Danny, and DINK (Joe’s little brother) are waiting. They drive him around and explain their plan: they’ll steal Oxycontin from all the local pharmacies and sell it. They’ve already made $10,000 after stealing a mere 500 pills. Mike adamantly refuses. Joe invites Mike to a party. Mike demures until he finds out JILL RYAN will be there. Mike takes Amy to the zoo. She confesses that some of the boys at school called her ugly. After reassuring her, Mike takes his crew to school to threaten the boys, who are all terrified. At the firehouse, McNulty hints that he knows about Mike’s shady past and hopes Mike still has enough connections to score him some drugs. Mike won’t.
Mike goes to Joe’s party, where he’s well-known by everyone. Jill (high as a kite) is there with her unpleasant boyfriend, KEVIN. Joe tells Mike that Kevin’s working with him, selling in Hartford and Providence. Mike warns Joe not to get too close to “Five Families” territory, but it falls on deaf ears. Mike decides to go with Joe, Dink, and Jill to buy cigarettes. He’s shocked when Joe comes back with a bunch of candy and Oxycontin. At a particularly brutal fire, Mike is separated from the crew by a backdraft and a fallen beam. He tries to axe his way through the drywall in one of the rooms when he sees a little girl trapped in the room. He gets her out through the window, and just as he’s about to go back in after O’Brien and Nee, an explosion rocks Mike.
He wakes up in the hospital burn ward, covered in burns, with a massive head injury. He’s prescribed opiate painkillers, and before long he’s addicted again. The crew comes to visit him once he’s released from the hospital. O’Brien thanks him for saving his life, but Mike downplays it. He returns to work, possibly a little too soon. They’re called in on a strange call — an elderly couple, attempting to have sex, resulted in the husband having a heart attack. He tells them he needs his medication, but his wife is too senile to give it to him. Mike goes into the bathroom to get the medication, but he finds a bottle of Percocet, as well, and pockets it. Nee witnesses this theft. Before long, Mike is a full-time addict again. He comes after Joe to buy drugs, but instead he finds Jill (who is now living with Kevin, Joe, and Dink). Jill invites her in, and although he’s attracted to her, he treats her horribly because she’s on heroin. They have sex, but they’re caught in the act when Kevin, Dink, and Joe come home. Kevin comes after Mike, who simply allows himself to be beaten. Dink pulls a gun on Kevin, and Joe fires him. Kevin gripes that they owe him $12,000. Mike warns Joe about Kevin, making him and Dink promise not to retaliate in any way.
Some time later, Lisa comes after Mike for the child support he owes her. He pays her entirely in cash, and she’s instantly suspicious. Mike falls asleep when it’s his turn to watch the firehouse. He’s suspended without pay. Danny shows up at Mike’s apartment to tell him Kevin stole Dink’s supply of Oxycontin, and Dink and Joe have gone after him. Mike and Danny speed to the confrontation. Mike manages to defuse the tension and get everyone out unscathed — until Kevin starts saying derogatory things about Jill. Mike beats the shit out of him. Mike helps Joe and Jill plan and execute the robbery of a CVS pharmacy, using a series of stolen cars. Mike takes Jill to a high-end jewelry store, where he pays for extremely expensive items using fresh $100 bills.
Mike, Joe, and Dink count their money. Mike realizes that he’s probably never going back to the firehouse. Dink tells them Kevin got out of the hospital and has been spreading a rumor that his friends from New Jersey might be coming to take Joe and his crew down a notch. Mike tells them they don’t have the firepower to take on any big New York crews. Mike comes home to find Jill has overdosed on heroin. He rushes her to the hospital. When he confronts Joe and Dink about where she could have gotten it, he realizes it probably traces back to Kevin. Mike and Jill try to detox together. Jill sneaks out and scores, to Mike’s disappointment. When Mike finds out she scored from Kevin, he gets his gun and storms out to find Kevin. He doesn’t find Kevin, but he does find a bunch of his buddies, all high as kites.
On his way back home, Mike sees a cop. Paranoid, he runs into a cathedral and hides in the confessional. He admits his drug dealing, and the priest asks if he wants to be forgiven. Mike doesn’t. Mike returns to his apartment to find Jill’s mother taking her to a clinic. When Mike tries to stop her, she pulls a gun on him. High as a kite, Mike meets Lisa to give her the child support money. She refuses to take it, and refuses to let Mike see Amy. Mike goes to her van and tries to pull Amy out. Amy’s willing to go, but Lisa starts threatening Mike. Eventually, he gives up. Lisa tells Mike she’s going to move to Pennsylvania with the man she’s seeing, and hopefully Mike will never see her again.
Completely despondent, Mike upgrades to heroin, using one of his firefighting medals to tie himself off. O’Brien comes by Mike’s apartment for a man-to-man talk. Like Mike, O’Brien came up in “Southie” and understands the life. He knows Mike has it in him to be a good man, but Mike doesn’t think he’ll ever change. O’Brien gives Mike the number of a detox center. Mike checks himself in, but he has second thoughts and leaves. Instead, he hooks up with Joe and Dink for a final big score — on a van from an Oxycontin distribution facility. Mike is calculated and precise despite his intoxication, but he doesn’t count on Dink’s ineptitude. Dink gets nervous and shoots one of the van drivers. Mike tries to keep the driver alive, as the police close in on them. They barely manage to escape, but Dink is fatally shot by the police. Joe decides they need to unload their product immediately, so Dink’s death won’t be in vain. They drive to the shipyard to meet their connection, but Mike is angered when he learns it’s Kevin.
Kevin and his cronies show up, ready to double cross Mike and Joe — but first, Kevin’s JERSEY GUY kills Kevin and his men, and he wants to kill Mike and Joe, as well, deciding that Boston dealers need to be out of the business. Joe manages to get to the car. Mike is able to kill Jersey Guy. Joe won’t let Mike into the car. He speeds away, leaving Mike to take the fall. Mike throws the money into the bay and starts running. He reaches the cathedral, which is on fire, and is being put out by his old crew. Mike sees the cause of the fire: Joe’s car smashed into the church and went up in flames. Mike helps his fellow firefighters put out the blaze.
Five years later, Mike works as a housepainter. He’s just been released from prison. Jill stops by to see him for the first time since he’s been released. They have a tentative conversation. Jill announces she’s going to go to Detroit and attempt to make something of herself. She writes her number on Mike’s hand. Mike goes back to his painting.
Comments:The Fallen is a drab, leaden attempt at an action script. It can’t seem to figure out if it wants to be a bombastic action flick about macho drug dealers, or a depressing character study of a pathetic drug addict. As a result of trying to awkwardly cram these two stories together, it ends up telling neither story particularly well. As written, it merits a pass.
Right out of the gate, the story hits a number of familiar beats: Mike is a brooding antihero with a dark past, struggling to make something of his life even though his friends keep pulling him back to his criminal life. The first act isn’t strictly bad — it’s just a dull, paint-by-numbers effort that hits the same notes as many other attempts at “thoughtful” action movies. The second act does up the ante a little bit, by saddling Mike with an opiate addiction (followed by a full-blown heroin addiction). However, when the “drug-addicted criminal” scenes in the second act aren’t stealing from Goodfellas, the portrayal of Mike is extremely inconsistent. He goes from a man who can, while strung out, plan masterful robberies, to a man who has to resort to snatching $10 bills from a convenience store cash register to pay his child support — and this is not an attempt to show a downward slide, because he bounces back to “master criminal” mode a few scenes later, despite his worsening dependence on heroin.
The third act inserts high melodrama, bordering on campy, between raucous but startlingly derivative action sequences. It reaches its nadir when Mike confesses all his sins in a cathedral (in the world’s laziest attempt to reveal to the audience what this normally taciturn character is thinking), which later Joe drives into, causing it to catch fire. Why does Joe drive into it? Doesn’t matter — it’s symbolism! The third act also tries to make far too much out of characters who are either repugnant (Joe and Dink) or poorly developed (Kevin). If this is a script about a man who loses everything to criminal behavior and heroin addiction, it should focus a little more on the loss of his ex-wife and child than the loss of his jackass criminal buddies.
As mentioned, Mike’s character ultimately becomes very inconsistent in the midst of the drug haze. Part of the problem is that he’s the “strong and silent” type — at first, this is remedied by having the other characters talk nonstop (in mostly on-the-nose fashion) about who he is and what drives him. However, it reaches a point where he’s alone the majority of the time, and he starts doing strange things that could maybe be chalked up to the poor decision-making skills of an addict, but that’s meeting the writers more than halfway. Because of the way the behavior is portrayed, it feels more like sloppy writing than a conscious decision — especially when Mike finally spills the beans in a church confessional, in a shockingly hackneyed scene.
The supporting characters are a vast sea of unpleasant people. Some (like Joe and Dink) have a reasonable amount of depth, but most simply exist to either anger or betray Mike. Across the board, they’re portrayed as grotesque and monstrous, with the lone exception of Mike’s daughter, Amy. However, like the priest in the awful church confessional scene, Amy exists as little more than a cheap window into Mike’s soul. She’s not a character so much as a cheap device to make Mike feel conflicted for a few scenes, before binging on Oxycontin and forgetting he even has a daughter.
At its core, this is an action-movie story written by people who wanted to write more than a simple action movie. It doesn’t quite work out for them. The writers would have been better off dropping the heroin addiction and having a little fun with the ridiculous, over-the-top nature of its Mafia conspiracies and “Southie” histrionics. Significant rewriting is required to make this script commercially viable.