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Posts in: May 5th, 2010

Safe

Author: Boaz Yakin

Genre: Action

Storyline: 3

Dialogue: 3

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

After saving the life of a Chinese girl who was kidnapped and forced to work for a mob boss, an ex-boxer attempts to rid the girl of her enemies.

Synopsis:

On a New York subway platform, MEI (12) waits, alone and afraid. Across the tracks is a homeless-looking man who makes her nervous. One hour earlier, Mei is shoved onto the floor by EMILE, a Russian Mafia kingpin, who accuses Mei of lying to him. He demands to know “the numbers.” One year earlier, Mei impresses her Shanghai schoolteacher with her impressive ability to quickly memorize numbers and instantly calculate complex equations in her head. Just when she’s going to be sent to a special school in Beijing, she’s kidnapped by gangsters. Meanwhile, at an Atlantic City sports arena, LUKE wins a mixed martial arts match, nearly killing his opponent in the ring. Luke is enraged that his fight fixer put him up against such a miserable opponent—Luke was supposed to take a dive, but the opponent’s incompetence made it impossible. His promoter warns Luke that the Russian mob will not be happy to learn they all lost high-profile bets on this fight. Mei is dragged to a warehouse, where she meets HAN JIAO. He explains that his daughter is a classmate of Mei’s, and that she has an extraordinary gift he would like to take advantage of, because he needs a bookkeeper who can work without leaving an electronic or paper trail. He threatens to kill her mother if she doesn’t agree to work for him. Mei has no choice.

Terrified that the mobsters might go after his family, Luke calls to warn her to leave the house. He’s too late, though—VASSILY (Emile’s son) and his hired goon CHEMYAKIN have already killed his wife and children. Against all odds, they decide to let Luke live, to wallow in a miserable existence. Vassily promises they’ll keep eyes on him and kill anyone he attempts to befriend or fall in love with, and they’ll kill him if he achieves any kind of success. The goal is for him to be miserable, and if Luke commits suicide in the meantime, all the better. Mei is sent to New York, where a crooked police captain, WOLF, sets her up with fake papers stating she is the daughter of YAO CHANG, the local crime boss. Mei quickly learns that this entire precinct is on the take, and that their prices have just gone up.

One year later, Mei is now a hardened member of Yao Chang’s syndicate. She informs him that an underground casino is losing money. Enraged, Yao Chang leads some men to the casino to beat the manager and tear the place apart. Meanwhile, Luke works at a soup kitchen and lives at a homeless shelter. At the shelter, he meets a reasonably nice guy in need of new shoes. Luke hands over his own. That night, he wakes to find the new friend has been stabbed in the throat, and his shoes have been removed. Han Jiao gives Mei a sheet of paper with a long, complex number written on it. She’s memorized it before he’s finished asking her to memorize it. He burns the paper and tells her she’ll be taken elsewhere to memorize another, similar number. Luke is harassed by some cops, who it turns out recognize him from his pre-homeless life. They beat the shit out of him, laughing the whole time. On her way to learn the second number, a Russian convoy runs the car she’s in off the road and kidnaps her. She’s dragged to Emile’s office. He orders her to tell him the number, but she pretends to not speak English. The police surround Emile’s warehouse. This distracts the mobsters enough that nobody notices Mei has left until it’s too late. Turns out, Yao Chang sent the police to get Mei. He negotiates a higher percentage with Wolf, but when they bust in, she’s gone. Yao Chang thinks Wolf has screwed him.

Mei arrives on the subway platform from the opening scene. Luke is revealed as the homeless person who creeped her out. He’s suicidal, ready to finally jump on the tracks—when he sees Mei, fragile, haunted, and pursued by both police and Russian killers. She hops onto a train, and the Russians follow. So does Luke. Chemyakin recognizes Luke. Luke takes one of the killers guns, then kills everyone on the train, including a surprised Chemyakin. Luke tries to console Mei, but she runs out seconds before the doors shut, trapping Luke inside the train. Luke goes to the back and dives off the moving train, then follows Mei out of the subway station. He sees police and overhears them talking about finding the girl. Mei runs through the downtown streets when she’s approached by some of the detectives who beat up Luke earlier. Luke beats them up once again and flees in a stolen car. The police and Russian mob pursue the car in a long chase. Luke narrowly manages to elude them.

Wolf, Han Jiao, and Emile are all angry to find that their people had Mei and lost her. Luke has stolen the wallet of one of the men he killed. He and Mei buy new clothes to blend in, then check into an upscale hotel, thinking their pursuers would not think they’d stay at such a place. Unfortunately, the Triad has placed a tracking device in Mei’s cell phone. Han Jiao dispatches men to retrieve her. In their hotel room, Mei wonders why Luke saved him. Luke tells Mei she saved him, and now he has to pay back the favor by getting everyone off her back. In order to do that, he needs details. Mei doesn’t want to divulge anything, but she starts to warm up to Luke and eventually explains her role as Yao Chang’s bookkeeper, that she was asked to memorize a long number and on her way to memorize a different long number when the Russians kidnapped her. Luke asks about the number. She says it was an odd number because it was very long, but the numerals 3 and 7 appeared too frequently to be random. Luke determines that the code isn’t numbers—it’s words, like “left” and “right”: a safe combination.

Yao Chang leads a team through the hotel. They threaten guests, and when the guests don’t cooperate, they start shooting. Luke and Mei hear the cacophony and flee. Luke’s embarrassed that he’s so out of practice, he didn’t anticipate the tracer. Luke leads Mei through the hotel, and after a number of fistfights and gunfights, Yao Chang manages to get Mei back. The cops arrive, looking for Luke. He has no choice but to flee through a rear entrance. He carjacks a man, drives over a few blocks, and hops in a cab. He’s angry at himself for losing Mei. Luke has also stolen the cell phone of a dead killer. He dials one of the recent calls and speaks to the man on the other end in flawless Russian, impersonating the killer. He realizes he’s talking to Vassily. Luke claims to have the number and asks to meet Vassily. Vassily gives a location. Mayor TRAMELLO learns from Wolf that Luke is in New York City. He’s petrified. He explains to Wolf that, after 9/11, the Vice President hired a ruthless assassin to kill anyone they deemed a “terrorist threat”—only most of them weren’t terrorists. They were New York gangsters, and Tramello, the Vice President, and his cronies split the millions left behind by the fallen kingpins. Someone in the government found out what they were up to, so they quietly eliminated the “program.” Wolf wants to know why someone with Luke’s connections ended up a third-rate prizefighter. Tramello doesn’t know or care. His assistant, ROSEN, tells Tramello about the gunfight at the hotel. Tramello orders Wolf to close every exit out of Manhattan and make sure Luke and Mei don’t get out of the city.

Mei reassures Han Jiao and Yao Chang that she didn’t tell Luke a thing. He isn’t sure he believes her, so he calls someone who can help—Rosen, who tells them to change their meeting location. Luke shows up at the bar where Vassily is supposed to be and immediately starts killing Russian mobsters. Luke beats Vassily to a pulp and shoves him into a car. He calls Emile and explains he knows about the safe and wants to know what’s in it. Emile tells him $30 million. Luke asks what’s in the second safe, the one Mei didn’t get the combination to. Emile says, “Something worth $30 million.” Luke orders Emile to tell him where the safe is in exchange for Vassily’s life. Luke calls together Captain Wolf and the detectives who beat the hell out of him. After showing them a tortured, beaten Vassily, Luke explains that Han Jiao has $30 million stored in Chinatown’s biggest casino, hidden from the police so they won’t take a cut. He tells them the Triads plan to pay Tramello $30 million for the combination to another safe. He offers to cut them all in on the loot if they help him rob the casino, making it look like a raid while pocketing the money. They agree.

The detectives charge into the casino, most of them dying in the epic gunfight while Luke opens the safe and steals the money. The remaining detectives attempt to betray him, so Luke kills them. When other cops show up, Wolf explains it was a raid that went bad. Luke takes Wolf’s phone and calls Tramello, threatening him until he gets Rosen’s number. Luke threatens to burn the money if Rosen doesn’t tell him what’s in the other safe. Rosen tells him it’s a disc containing all the names and money trails leading back to the Vice President’s scheme. Since Luke has the money, Rosen threatens to stop without giving the number to the Triad. Luke orders him to retrieve Mei. Rosen shows up to the exchange and kills everyone except Mei. Luke breaks into the mayor’s mansion and threatens Tramello at gunpoint until he gives him the disc. He does so, reluctantly. Luke knocks him out and meets with Rosen, who is going to exchange the money for Mei. Rosen tries to double-cross Luke, so Luke shoots him. Luke gives Wolf $50,000 to keep him quiet, then returns the remainder of the $30 million to Han Jiao. Mei encloses a letter saying that she and Luke are not to be touched—and if they are, Mei will expose all their secrets. Luke and Mei place copies of the disc in safe deposit boxes all over New York City, to be sure the information will get out if they’re killed. Mei wonders if they’re safe.

Comments:

Safe makes a vain attempt to turn a basic shoot-’em-up action into a thoughtful, twisty thriller. The writers aren’t up for the challenge, resulting in a script that combines unimaginative action sequences with bland characters (particularly protagonist Luke) and attempts to up the ante with cheap shock value. As written, it merits a pass.

The script starts on a bad note, with a horrible and needless attempt at flashback structuring to bring audiences right into the action before going back a year to show how the characters ended up where they did. There’s no mystery or intrigue to these opening scenes before it flashes back a year—in fact, the script catches up to those scenes after about 10 pages. Worse than that, Luke’s “one year ago” flashback contains a truly awful scene that makes virtually no sense, leading him down a path that makes even less sense in light of the fact that he’s eventually revealed to be a secret master assassin: the Russians kill his family but decide to let him live, in the hopes that he’ll commit suicide? The writers try to make this seem like poetic justice, but mostly it’s just a stupid excuse to keep Luke alive while attempting to give a lazy “revenge” motivation to his actions later in the script.

Once the mysteries are set up in the first act, Luke and Mei are smashed together in the second, which splits its time evenly between bluntly explaining all those mysteries and dull action sequences. Even if these action sequences had any sort of novelty or innovation (which they don’t—every single second of action has already been seen in at least a half-dozen cheesy action flicks), it would be undermined by the fact that each individual action set-piece overstays its welcome by at least five pages. As for the on-the-nose explanations of why everything is happening: the writers do make the convoluted conspiracy clear, but they’re not up to the task of making it really believable that Luke feels any sort of kinship or bond with Mei. This is the sort of script that tries to get away with flat-out bad dialogue like, “I didn’t save you—you saved me,” instead of doing the hard work of forging an actual relationship between the characters.

The third act is an unsatisfying mess. It’s not much more than Luke kidnapping the major players in the Triad, Russian Mafia, and police force and forcing them to give him information, which they do without him having to apply much pressure. Leading it back to the mayor of New York City, who’s in bed with the unnamed “Vice President” who was in power when 9/11 occurred, adds an attempt at a thought-provoking political statement that just comes across as trite. Even though the Vice President is painted as the mastermind of the conspiracy, there’s no showdown with him. Instead, the showdown is with a bland mayor’s aide.

Perhaps some of the goofiness of the story could have been redeemed through its characters, but as mentioned, Luke’s motivation for everything he does—ostensibly an attempt to save Mei—comes across as extremely thin. Even when it eventually becomes clear that he also wants revenge against the NYPD, the Mayor’s Office, and the Russian mob, he comes across like a mindless psychopath. Trying to show his humanity by having it all be for a little girl is just cheap manipulation, and not very effective at that. On the other hand, Mei’s biggest problem is her age: there are only two reasons (both bad) to make her 12 years old: the first is the deplorably sleazy shock value of watching adult gangsters beat on her, and the second is the treacly attempt at showing Luke’s more than a government-programmed assassin. She could easily be 10 or even 20 years older without affecting the story much, and it wouldn’t change the story much. Every other character—of which there are many—is pretty much an interchangeable villain: slimy and pragmatic, but decidedly uninteresting when there are 10 guys who have the exact same reactions to every situation.

This is a terrible script, and nothing short of a page-one rewrite will change that.

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This Must Be the Place

Author: Paolo Sorrentino & Umberto Contarello

Genre: Drama

Storyline: 2

Dialogue: 3

Characterization: 3

Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A washed-up rock star embarks on a trip across the U.S. to find the Nazi soldier who tormented his recently deceased father.

Synopsis:

In Dublin, CHEYENNE (50s) performs a ritual of putting on black clothes and applying goth-like makeup. Meanwhile, MARY (teens) performs the same ritual. These two depressed souls meet at a mall, where they see a band butchering a cover of a familiar song. Cheyenne and Mary go to a coffee shop in the mall, and it becomes clear that this a routine, and they have an awkward friendship as a result of Cheyenne’s celebrity. DESMOND, a clerk at another store, awkwardly asks Mary out. She treats Desmond like crap and sends him away. At a grocery store, two girls laugh at Cheyenne’s appearance. When they aren’t looking, he smashes everything in their cart and disappears. Cheyenne meets his best friend, JEFFREY, at the bank where he works. Jeffrey talks nonstop about sex and wonders why Cheyenne isn’t similarly focused. That evening, Cheyenne goes home and has dinner with his wife, JANE, who tells him MTV wants his band to reunite and perform at their music awards. Cheyenne refuses. Cheyenne slips Desmond a rare bootleg CD to give to Mary. She’s thrilled, but she quickly realizes Cheyenne set this up and still turns down Desmond. Cheyenne and Mary visit the graves of two boys who died as teenagers. Their ELDERLY PARENTS are there, and they yell at Cheyenne, reminding him he’s not welcome at their sons’ grave. Mary starts crying, but Cheyenne seems unaffected by this. He merely leads Mary out of the cemetery.

STEVEN, the leader of the cover band Cheyenne and Mary passed by earlier, comes to Cheyenne’s home. He begs Cheyenne to produce a CD by his band, the Pieces of Shit. Cheyenne agrees to listen to their demo CD, but he tells Steven he’s not a producer. Cheyenne drops by Mary’s house to meet her, but comes upon her MOTHER instead. Mary’s Mother is angry, blaming Cheyenne for the disappearance of her son, Tony. Cheyenne invites Mary, Desmond, and Jeffrey to a dinner party. Desmond attempts to impress Mary but fails. Jeffrey remains preoccupied with his uninvited girlfriend, who brought a dog. That night, Mary’s Mother is found by police, wandering down the middle of a highway on a rainy night. Cheyenne and Mary attempt to comfort her. Cheyenne learns his father is dying and wants to see him, but he’s petrified of flying. Jane encourages Cheyenne to do it. He’s given special permission to sit in the cockpit with the pilots to put him at ease, but they’re obnoxious and unprofessional, so Cheyenne opts not to fly. He takes a ship across the Atlantic. When he arrives in New York, he learns his father has died. His brother, RICHARD, takes him to view the body as the tahara is performed on him. Cheyenne notices several Auschwitz tattoos on his father’s wrinkled skin. Cheyenne meets with friend and ex-Talking Heads frontman DAVID BYRNE, who performs a special concert at the Knitting Factory in honor of Cheyenne’s dad. Cheyenne confesses that Byrne is a real artist, while Cheyenne just exploited depressed kids with bad pop songs.

At the funeral, Richard points out MORDECAI LEVY to Cheyenne. Cheyenne doesn’t know who he is. At a Benihana steakhouse, a man named ERNIE RAY strikes up a conversation with Cheyenne, strongly hinting that he wants Cheyenne to drive his truck to Oklahoma. Cheyenne turns him down. Richard gives Cheyenne their father’s diary and drawings, which he wanted Cheyenne to have. They give clues about Aloise Muller, the man who tortured him at Auschwitz. Richard tells him to take the information to Mordecai Levy, who has brought to justice hundreds of Nazis. Cheyenne meets with Levy, who doesn’t give him any realy help. Cheyenne agrees to transport Ernie Ray’s pickup truck, after all. Cheyenne drives all day and calls Jane from a motel room, claiming he’s just boarded the ship to return to Ireland. The next day, he arrives in a small town in Indiana. Based on his father’s notes, Muller’s wife, DOROTHY SHORE, lives in this town. Cheyenne tracks her from church back to her house. Claiming to be one of Dorothy’s former students (she’s a teacher), Cheyenne gets her to invite him into her home. He tells her that he has fond memories of her lecture on the Holocaust. Dorothy is surprised, because she usually ran out of time and skipped the World War II unit. Cheyenne asks Dorothy why she thinks the Jews were persecuted. She believes the Nazis wanted their money. That night, Cheyenne stakes out Dorothy’s house. He breaks into it while she sleeps and digs through her possessions until he finds some letters and drawings from Dorothy’s granddaughter and great-grandson, in Texas.

At another motel, Cheyenne begins listening to the Pieces of Shit’s demo. Despite the name, the music is good. Cheyenne drives to Texas, picking up an Indian hitchhiker along the way. He stakes out the home of RACHEL MULLER, watching her break down crying, then follows her to the diner where she works. When he enters the diner as a customer, Rachel recognizes Cheyenne from his music. Cheyenne challenges some teenagers to a ping-pong game, which he wins. After she gets off work, Cheyenne follows Rachel to a disco, where he approaches her and dances with her. Cheyenne tracks Rachel back to her home and watches from his truck as she tucks in her 10-year-old son, TOMMY. The next day, Rachel tells Cheyenne that Tommy has a fear of the water. Cheyenne hires contractors to install an above-ground pool in Rachel’s yard. It doesn’t help Tommy. Rachel invites Cheyenne to stay for dinner. After she puts Tommy to bed, Cheyenne and Rachel start talking about parents. She reveals her parents moved to Hong Kong because of bad blood with her grandparents, who retired to Huntsville, Utah. Cheyenne leaves the next morning. As he makes his way toward Utah, Rachel and Tommy bond, and Tommy finally gets into the water.

Over the phone, Cheyenne finally confesses to Jane that he’s not on the ship. She’s shocked. While stopped at a gas station, Cheyenne watches as Ernie Ray’s truck suddenly explodes. A mechanic explains that somebody must have put in too much oil. Cheyenne buys a brand new truck and takes a bunch of oil rig workers back to Oklahoma. Cheyenne shows up at Ernie Ray’s home with the new truck. Cheyenne visits a gun shop, where he buys several pistols. A goth girl recognizes Cheyenne, but he denies he’s Cheyenne. In Huntsville, Utah, Cheyenne stops at a bar, where he needles an OLD MAN about any German residents in the town. The Old Man is evasive, but after rambling about himself for awhile, he admits there is one German resident in town—but his name is Peter Smith, not Aloise Muller. Cheyenne stakes out Peter Smith’s house. It’s empty, so Cheyenne breaks in and digs through Peter’s possession while he gets drunk on Peter’s liquor. He calls Steven and agrees to produce his CD, telling him to rent the most expensive studio in Dublin and charge it to Cheyenne. While on the road back to the motel, Cheyenne thinks he sees TONY from behind, but it turns out to be a total stranger.

Mordecai Levy has tracked Cheyenne to the motel. He knows Where Aloise Muller/Peter Smith has fled to: Canada. They drive up to the snowy plains of Canada together, where they find Aloise’s house, isolated in the middle of the frozen wasteland. Cheyenne goes into the house alone, while Levy waits. ALOISE simply sits, waiting, resigned to his fate. Before Cheyenne can do anything, Aloise melodramatically explains why the Nazis did what they did (they were all obsessed with fitting in and imitating each other, which the Jews had no interest in, so that led them to persecute the Jews for having higher self-esteem), then explains he knows everything about Cheyenne and his father. He shows Cheyenne his missing hand, which was blown off in a letter-bomb Cheyenne’s father sent when he discovered Aloise’s whereabouts. This ruined Aloise’s carpenter livelihood and forced him into hiding. Aloise feels this makes them even. Cheyenne doesn’t agree. He forces Aloise to strip naked and start marching through the snow. Levy watches, shocked, as the elderly man struggles through the knee-high snow. Cheyenne waits with Levy at the airport, then takes a ship back to Dublin. He calls his home, and Mary answers. Mary tells Cheyenne not to get too swept up in death and sorrow.

Mary’s Mother sits on the porch of her house, smoking a cigarette as usual. A figure appears in the distance, heading toward the house. At first, she thinks it’s Tony, but as the figure gets closer, it turns out to be Cheyenne. To his surprise, she raises her hand in greeting and smiles. Cheyenne smiles, too.

Comments:

This Must Be the Place desperately wants to be a deep, thought-provoking examination of the multigenerational impact of the Holocaust. However, it barely even qualifies as a dramatic story; it’s more like a series of barely connected scenes fumbling for some kind of purpose. The story, if one can call it that, is a structural disaster—plus, it doesn’t even follow a worthwhile character. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act is devoted to establishing both Cheyenne and a number of characters and conflicts (Desmond wanting to date Mary, Mary’s Mother blaming Cheyenne for the never-explained disappearance of Tony, Cheyenne growing bored in his marriage to Jane, Jeffrey irritating both Jane and Cheyenne with his sexual compulsion) that have nothing to do with anything. The writers make a vain, somewhat embarrassing attempt to tie everything back together in the end, but reminding us of these characters at the end does little more than underscore how aimless this story actually is. It wastes a solid 32 pages before Cheyenne’s dying father is even mentioned, and another 20 before Cheyenne starts his tedious spiritual quest across the U.S., which is supposed to be the main thrust of the story.

The second act focuses on the death of Cheyenne’s father and his search for Aloise Muller, the Nazi who tormented him. Why does he feel compelled to do this? Who knows? Why does he warm up to Rachel and Tommy and do such nice things for them? Preemptive guilt? The writing is subtle to the point where nothing makes any sense. Cheyenne simply does things and goes places without any rhyme or reason, while the writers repeatedly mention how blank and impenetrable Cheyenne’s face is. Guess what? A blank-faced, taciturn lead character with nothing but internal motivations (as opposed to having an external character like Mordecai Levy nudging Cheyenne in a direction for clear reasons) is a recipe for the world’s dullest character and the world’s least interesting story.

The third act does nothing to redeem the tedium. Bringing Levy back into the story actually gives it a little bit of well-defined forward motion, but it feels like far too much of a convenient cheat to bring this seemingly extraneous character back into the story just when Cheyenne has lost his lead on Aloise. Cheyenne’s confrontation is similarly unsatisfying: like the rest of the script, nothing really happens. Aloise rambles, as if speaking for all Nazis, and then accepts his fate with no argument. The antagonist giving up after a blandly preachy speech is not exactly scintillating drama.

There’s no kinder way to put this: Cheyenne is boring. He’s a lobotomized Morrissey with nothing interesting to say on the rare occasions he does speak, and the writers struggle like hell to make this journey mean something—have some kind of impact on the character. However, he’s too much of a cipher, which makes it impossible to care about anything he does. Even when he gets revenge on Aloise, it’s never clear that that’s what he really wants, or if he does want it, it’s never clear why. Who cares that he finally starts smiling in the last few pages, when the writers never give a strong sense of why he wasn’t smiling prior to that? The world’s greatest actor would have an extremely difficult time making this character worth watching.

The other characters in the script simply exist. None of them seem to serve any particular purpose—if Cheyenne sees something in them that helps him come to realizations about himself, that’s never made clear. As mentioned, every character introduced in the first act (including Cheyenne’s wife) completely disappears from the story until the last two pages, making the long, slow setups of their personalities and conflicts meaningless distractions. On the other hand, it seems like Cheyenne’s encounters with Rachel and Tommy are supposed to have some sort of deeper meaning—if they don’t, then why the hell does it go on so long?—but that deeper meaning is never, ever crystallized, no matter how many montages involving swimming pools and floating paper boats the writers throw into the script.

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Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods

Author: Christian Ditter

Genre: Adventure/Family/Comedy

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

A nerdy Viking boy must lead warriors on a quest to find his kidnapped father and Thor’s hammer.

Synopsis:

Led by warrior HALVAR, a group of Vikings sail through the foggy sea. Halvar has to encourage his terrified 10-year-old son, WICKIE, to accompany them on the raid of a castle. Halvar sends Wickie to search a dungeon on his own, reminding him he’ll soon be chief and will have to be brave. A group of friendly ESKIMOS are held prisoner in the dungeon. Despite their pleasant demeanor, Wickie fears them. Once he realizes they’re no threat, Wickie releases them. Meanwhile, Halvar is disappointed to find that someone has beaten them to this castle’s treasure—all that’s left are a few barrels of mead and sacks of potatoes. Wickie can tell from a broken-off metal spike (from a mace) that Terrible Sven beat them. The castle guards regain consciousness and sound the alarm. The Vikings retreat. Wickie uses a grappling hook to keep the castle drawbridge closed, preventing the guards and knights from pursuing them.

On the ship, Halvar ridicules Wickie for burying his nose in a book. The ship returns to the village of Flake, where Halvar and Wickie reunite with YLVA (Wickie’s overbearing mother) and YLVIE (Wickie’s best friend, a girl with a crush on him). Ylva and the other wives want to know what sort of treasure and food they brought back. Nobody’s happy to find potatoes and mead is all they got. The warriors keep promising jewels and geese, but all they ever come back with are potatoes. As they unload the barrels, Wickie and FAXE (a warrior) see one start to move on its own. The lid pops off, and out leaps SVENJA, a girl Wickie’s age, who immediately runs off. Halvar orders Wickie to chase her. With some effort, Wickie gets her (but she immediately pins him to the ground), and Halvar declares her their new slave. Wickie shows Ylvie a book he looted, which chronicles the adventures of Thor, who destroys ships with his lightning hammer and lives in an Ice Palace filled with treasure. Unimpressed, Ylvie points to an odd lock in the Ice Palace illustration. Wickie realizes it matches the shape of Halvar’s amulet. Wickie tries to tell Halvar about the amulet, but Halvar won’t listen. The villagers make a feast from their potatoes and mead, but the mead is drugged. It knocks them all unconscious, and when Wickie awakens, Halvar is gone—he’s been kidnapped, and all signs point to Terrible Sven. Because Halvar is gone, Wickie defaults as their leader. The other Vikings lack confidence in Wickie, so they want to take a vote, but ultimately the votes go toward Wickie, who wants to lead a charge to rescue Halvar. Tearfully, Ylva gives him Halvar’s sun dial. Ylvie gives him a sugar beet for good luck.

Wickie takes the helm of the ship, but he’s so incompetent, it moves every direction but forward. Eventually, after destroying the pier and several fishing boats, they go out on the high seas. Wickie tries to give orders to the crew and get them to work together, but they don’t listen. Svenja mocks Wickie’s leadership skills. A violent storm tosses the ship about. The Vikings awaken on a sandy beach on the Isle of the Valkyries, their ship damaged. Wickie leads them into the jungle to find cloth to repair their sales. Instead, they find the Valkyries—beautiful, athletic women, who capture the Vikings in a huge net, which they care to a volcano. Wickie struggles to negotiate with them. He sees they have a sail, but they have nothing to offer the Valkyries for it. Wickie insists he can get the treasure from Thor’s Ice Palace. This gives the Valkyries pause. The VALKYRIE CHIEF asks if Wickie has the amulet, but Svenja pipes up that Terrible Sven stole it. The Valkyries are fearful at the mention of his name. They help the Vikings repair the ship and find Cape Fear—Terrible Sven’s island—under the condition that they get the amulet back and never seek the treasure, which will grant its owners great power no human should have.

Wickie and the Vikings set sail. They get lost on the way to Cape Fear, but with Svenja’s help, they make it there. It’s a frightening place with black volcanic rock and ashy ground, full of gloom and fog. They pass Odin’s Gorge, an extremely dangerous passage from which no man has returned. The ship beaches within sight of Terrible Sven’s huge castle. Wickie comes up with a brilliant idea to get into the castle—they’ll dress up like clowns and pretend to be the court jesters. Svenja confesses she’s impressed with Wickie’s emerging leadership skills. The castle guards think the group look like Vikings dressed up like clowns, but their appearance distracts them long enough for Faxe to knock them unconscious. They creep silently through the corridor when Wickie accidentally knocks over 10 suits of armor in a domino effect. POKKA, Terrible Sven’s assistant, hears the noise and is pleased to see the court jester’s have arrived. He leads them into the banquet hall, where they’re expected to perform an act. They have nothing prepared, so ULME starts singing “Scarborough Fair” while Wickie leads the others in terrible dance movements. This eventually turns into a violent altercation, which to the amusement of Terrible Sven and his court. They burst into wild applause, and the Vikings prepare to leave when Terrible Sven orders them back—because they forgot to take their pay.

Wickie leads the Vikings to the dungeon, where he attempts to negotiate the release of Halvar with the guards. The guards are confused by the idea of diplomacy, so the other Vikings beat them up. Wickie leads the Vikings into Halvar’s cell, and after a gleeful reunion—Svenja slams the door shut, informing them she’s Terrible Sven’s daughter. Terrible Sven browbeats her, and it seems like Svenja immediately regrets her actions. The Vikings make a human ladder to an opening 30 feet above, ending with Wickie. Halvar is shocked to see his normally fearful son scale the Vikings with gusto. Wickie finds a donkey outside. He attaches the sugar beet to a stick, which he ties to the donkey’s head. He tries to use the donkey to pull the men out of the cell, but instead, they pull the donkey down into the cell. Wickie’s on his own. He sneaks around the castle until he finds Terrible Sven’s bedroom. Sven sleeps, snoring loudly. Wickie sees the dungeon key hanging around Sven’s neck. With some effort and physical schtick involving Sven tossing and turning while Wickie tries to grab for the key, Wickie manages to remove it. He also spots the amulet on Sven’s nightstand, so he takes that, too. On his way out, Wickie steps on a creaky floorboard, waking Sven immediately. Wickie hides in a barrel as Svenja busts into the room, having heard the quiet creak from her room. Together, Terrible Sven and Svenja go to search the castle for intruders. When they leave, Wickie returns to the dungeon. He frees Halvar and the others, but they hear Terrible Sven—he knows the amulet is missing. Forced to flee quickly, Wickie leads them up to a tower. Their only option is to plummet down into the ship. Halvar is shocked by Wickie’s bravery.

As soon as their ship sets sailed, they discover they’re surrounded by Terrible Sven’s forces. The only way out is Odin’s Gorge. Despite the Vikings’ protests, Wickie orders them into the Gorge. Terrible Sven witnesses this, shocked. Svenja is smitten, certain this was Wickie’s brainstorm. Terrible Sven takes a ship into the Gorge, quickly catching up to Halvar despite the treacherous waters. Terrible Sven hops over to Halvar’s ship, while Wickie hops over to Sven’s. While Halvar battles Sven for the amulet, Wickie battles Svenja for his book. Sven manages to get the amulet, and Wickie narrowly escapes before Sven can capture and hold him prisoner. There’s a fork in the Gorge. The Vikings choose the wrong path and end up getting stuck in the frozen Arctic Ocean. Halvar is disappointed that Wickie can’t think of an idea to get them out of it. The crew is forced to spend the night huddled up against each other, trying to keep from freezing.

They’re awakened by the Eskimos Wickie freed earlier. These Eskimos lead Wickie and the Vikings to the Palace of Eternal Ice. The amulet sticks out of the lock, but it hasn’t frozen over, meaning they may not be too late to get to Sven. Inside, the Vikings confront Terrible Sven and his men. Wickie opens his book, which contains cryptic clues on how to get the treasure. While Halvar fights Sven, Wickie realizes he needs to use some frozen ropes to tie together various elemental runes in a specific order. Sven corners Halvar. His men hold the Vikings hostage while Wickie sneaks off to find the treasure. Svenja spots him and runs after him. Inside the treasure chamber is Thor’s hammer. Wickie and Svenja are awed. The ice begins to crack under Svenja’s feet. He has to make the choice between using the hammer to save the Vikings or saving Svenja. He’s not big or strong enough to pull her out. The only way to get her out is for Svenja to give up her treasured sword. She does so, reluctantly. Wickie pulls Svenja out of the treasure chamber just as it collapses. Terrible Sven manages to get the hammer, firing lightning bolts at the Vikings—but he’s melting everything, destroying the chamber around him. The Vikings try to flee before the entire palace is destroyed. Wickie holds up a mirror as Terrible Sven shoots a bolt, reflecting it back to him. Sven drops the hammer, which slides to Svenja. Sven orders her to finish off the Vikings, but she hurls the hammer into the huge crevasse that has formed in the collapsing Ice Palace.

Seeing Terrible Sven is about to fall into the crevasse himself, Wickie leads the Vikings back to help pull him up. Wickie shows Terrible Sven the value of diplomacy, which he grudgingly accepts. Wickie, Halvar, and the other eskimos load the ship with treasure and geese. Wickie and Svenja part ways amiably. Back in the village of Flake, Halvar bestows the Amulet of the Brave on Wikie. The villagers cheer.

Comments:

Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods is a sequel to a 2009 film version of a 1970s animated series popular in Germany. Judging it strictly as a movie for kids, the script’s combination of fun story, bizarre comic characters, and amusing one-liners will undoubtedly make it entertaining. As written, it merits a consider.

The first act sets up a simple but engaging conflict as bookworm Wickie is ridiculed by all the Viking warriors—most hurtfully by his own father—for reading instead of taking heroic action. The writer puts Wickie on a believable journey from socially awkward nerd to truly heroic leader of men, making his arc—and the story as a whole—satisfying despite its flaws. The writer also does a pretty good job of setting up the other major characters and the story that leads them all on a course to fight over Thor’s hammer. There’s nothing outstanding here, but it’s all solid.

The second act diversion to the Isle of the Valkyries, while amusing, feels pretty unnecessary. I plead ignorance regarding the source material—if the Isle of the Valkyries is a memorable component of the first film and/or the animated series, it’s reasonable to assume audiences will enjoy it. Narratively, though, it doesn’t quite fit. Aside from providing a few amusing jokes, the Valkyries don’t do much but deliver exposition through disappointingly lazy, on-the-nose dialogue. This sense of wheel-spinning actually does continue as the Vikings reach Sven’s castle. The “court jester” sequence is an amusing diversion, but it stops the story in its tracks. The saving grace is how short the second act is—the script gets bogged down, but never for too long.

The third act keeps up the combination of goofy comedy and action-adventure. All of the set-pieces are brief, entertaining, and satisfying. Halvar’s shock at how much his son has changed is a nice touch, but it’d be more successful if the second act spent more time showing Wickie as a strong leader and less time distracted with wacky comedic moments. Svenja’s betrayal is obvious from the moment she pops out of the mead barrel (come on, the first for letters of her name are “Sven”), but the writer actually does a nice job of making her seem human—she’s not simply fooling Wickie. All of this leads to a tidy resolution and a cheerfully upbeat ending.

Other than the second act weaknesses, the biggest problem with the script is that the humor (particularly the rampant, unabashed sexism and many jokes about slavery) may not play well abroad, being that this is a kids’ movie. Much of the script is amusing, and may even entertain parents, but certain audiences won’t necessarily want their kids exposed to such dark humor.

The characters are simple but solid. It’s tough to complain about a character whose name is “Terrible Sven” not being multifaceted. Still, the writer does a nice job of giving each character in this large cast individual quirks to differentiate them from one another. Wickie’s arc, which effectively shows that the brainy and brawny can learn from one another equally and strike a good balance rather than being one or the other, which seems like a pretty good message for the target audience.

This is one of the better kids’ movie scripts out there, but it will be difficult for it to find a large international audience when most kids outside of Germany and Austria are unfamiliar with the source material.

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