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Posts in: April 30th, 2010

The Dog Squad: 3D

Author: Steve Carpenter

Genre: Comedy/Kids

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 6

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

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 2×4, 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.

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The Fallen

Author: Emilio Mauro and Michael Yebba

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

Storyline: 4

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

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.

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