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Posts in: April 29th, 2010

Drive

Author: Hossein Amini

Genre: Action/Thriller

Storyline: 4

Dialogue: 2

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

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.

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Mental

Author: PJ Hogan

Genre: Comedy

Storyline: 1

Dialogue: 4

Characterization: 3

Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

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.

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