The Spy Next Door

Author: Joe Ballarini
Genre: Comedy/Spy Thriller
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 6
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 6

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Logline:

A bored accountant gets some excitement in his life when an international spy moves in next door.

Synopsis:

Somewhere in the Arctic, an ESKIMO FAMILY travels on a dog sled over a frozen lake. A beam from a satellite shoots down, immediately thawing the ice, leaving the family stranded on a tiny iceberg. MR. RANDOM, a devious Austrian scientist, watches as his test succeeds. Outside his secret base in the Amazon rain forest, six black-cloaked figures rappel down the side of the building. The leader of this gang is IAN STERLING, suave, James Bond-esque spy. His entire team gets killed in the process, but Sterling manages to get inside Random’s command center, steal a hard drive, and get out. He meets the beautiful MOIRA in a fishing boat outside, and they escape.

In Rockwell, a suburb, ROY BANNER practices assertiveness in a mirror. His wife, ELLIE, reminds him to do the grocery shopping for her, then pulls him into the shower. In the kitchen, their 12-year-old son, JAKE, and six-year-old daughter, PHOEBE, fight over her MR. CHOW doll (a talking panda bear). Roy tries to convince the family to go on a dangerous vacation to Machupichu, but nobody can muster much enthusiasm. In front of the house, as Roy tries to get the kids in the car, he notices movers in the house next door. When he has his back turned, somebody parachutes into the chimney of the house.

On the way to school and work, Roy turns on a motivational-speaker CD. He notices a PAPERGIRL skipping his house for the third time and chases her. A speeding minivan on the wrong side of the road nearly hits them and, instead, crashes into a “Welcome to Rockwell” sign. Roy pulls over and, enraged, goes over to the minivan. Moira is driving the car, and Ian is in the passenger seat. In the back is WOLFGANG, their 10-year-old “son,” and SPOT, his beagle. Intimidated by Ian, Roy backs off.

At work, JERRY MAGUFFIN sympathizes and tries to help Roy out of his rut by inviting him to the Yaks Club. Driving home, Roy is still listening to the motivational CD. OLD MR. FRANKLIN, the local conspiracy nut, stops him to tell him about intercepting transmissions from something calling itself “The Organization,” which he thinks is Mafia-related. Roy feigns interest. When he gets home, he’s surprised by Ellie inviting Ian, Moira, and Wolfgang to dinner. He and Ellie get into an argument about it, but Roy loses. Roy notices that Ian has a gun and Moira seems a little too efficient with her Ginsu knives. Ellie doesn’t believe him.

The next day at work, Roy tells Jerry he did some snooping on the Sterlings and discovered they’ve never filed income taxes, despite claiming to have lived in the U.S. for 15 years. Later, Roy notices Ian’s minivan creeping around. Roy and Ian make harsh eye contact.

At a barbecue hosted by the Sterlings, we meet PAM MAGUFFIN, Jerry’s tough-cookie real-estate-agent wife. Ian and Moira charm everyone in the neighborhood — except Roy. Roy offers to help them with their taxes and asks Ian a series of trick questions, which he can’t answer. Wolfgang offers to sell HOUSEWIVES pink flamingoes so he can go to a sports camp for kids with asthma.

That night, every lawn has a pink flamingo. Roy’s awakened by noise from next door. He sees Ian walking Spot. He follows Ian, notices him digging through some neighbors’ trash cans. Then, he notices Spot staring at him. Spot begins to whir, then fire spews from his backside like a jet, heading for Roy. Roy runs away, goes back home, and gets back in bed. Ian’s there. He incapacitates Roy, then takes him back to his house. He explains everything: they’re not a real family, Spot’s not a real dog. They’re spies, with a bunch of gadgets and skills. Wolfgang is genetically engineered to be super-intelligent and is actually Ian and Moira’s boss. Roy groans at their antics and tells them they need to do a much better job of fitting in. The comment annoys Ian but inspires Wolfgang, who decides to pair them up — after all, who would be better suited to help them fit in? Neither Roy nor Ian is enthusiastic about this, but Moira sticks Roy with an “i-Ball” monitor that sees everything Roy sees, so he’s stuck doing their bidding.

The next morning, Ellie reminds Roy to go to Jake’s orthodontist appointment. Roy and Ellie attempt shower sex again, but in the middle of it, Roy remembers the camera and freaks out, confusing Ellie. Later, at work, Roy is wired on coffee and getting very paranoid. He tries to tell Jerry about Ian and to call the FBI, but Jerry doesn’t understand. He gets a note from Ian to meet him in the park. Roy goes, and he’s attacked by a character named MR. STITCH, who has a distinctive antler-shaped tattoo on his wrist. Ian rescues Roy. Afterward, Ian explains their entire motivation to Roy — Stitch was part of “The Organization,” which Ian, Moira, and Wolfgang are trying to infiltrate. They have a secret satellite command somewhere in Rockwell. Ian encourages Roy to talk to Old Mr. Franklin, because the paranoid information he digs up may help them find where this satellite is hidden.

When they go to visit Old Mr. Franklin, they find him dead. Roy knows where Old Mr. Franklin hid his information — behind his glass eye. He finds some microfilm, which Ian analyzes and turns up a code name — FF #88. Nobody knows what this code refers to. Roy realizes he’s missed Jake’s orthodontist appointment and is concerned about missing so much work; the latter is no problem, because Ian has installed a hologram to make it look like he’s sitting as his cubicle. Roy and Ian get into an argument about his family. Ian thinks he needs a clear head, but Roy cares about his family. In full view of Moira and Wolfgang (watching through the i-Ball monitor), he shouts, “I don’t have a family.” It stings his partners.

On his way home, Roy is chased by two FBI agents, BOB and DAVE. He knows the lay of the land better than they do, so he’s able to sneak back home. It only makes him more paranoid, though. Roy tries to confess everything to Ellie, but she doesn’t believe a word of it, assuming he’s making up excuses for missing Jake’s orthodontist appointment. Roy discovers that Phoebe’s Mr. Chow doll is somehow evil, part of “The Organization,” and that’s how “they” found him. The family just thinks he’s more deranged, but the doll keeps spouting evil phrases. Roy drives away in the station wagon, and he notices the back of Phoebe’s soccer jersey — FF #05.

He goes to Ian’s and tells him of the discovery, and they go to the soccer field. They send Wolfgang, who theoretically should blend in, but he’s an adult trapped in a child’s body. The girl in jersey #88 doesn’t want anything to do with him, so Roy comes up and introduces himself as Phoebe’s father. #88 tells him she’s benched because she’s no good, but the coach said she could play if she delivered a Pokémon lunchbox to a certain address. The coach approaches — and it’s Mr. Random, faking a Midwestern twang. Roy has an opportunity to take him out, but he doesn’t. Mr. Random doesn’t know Roy knows where and when #88 is delivering the box.

The spies go back to the Sterling house and prepare. Roy is frustrated because they won’t give him any decent weaponry. Meanwhile, Ian and Moira get all decked out in fancy clothes, which amuses Roy, because the meeting place is a Howard Johnson’s. Roy and Ian sneak through the air-conditioning vents and spot Mr. Random, not #88, waiting in the lobby. While they wait for Moira and Wolfgang to come up with their next move, Roy asks Ian why he does this job and suggests that maybe he’s “slipping” because he has nothing to fight for — like Roy is fighting for his family’s safety. Ian agrees and gives Roy a small gun.

They return to their hotel room to regroup, and Moira watches Ricki Lake on TV. Ricki begins holding up signs directed at Roy, which nobody but him seems to notice. They tell him to go to the lobby men’s room, so he does. Jerry’s in there, and he claims he’s working for the FBI. He tells Roy that the Sterlings are actually part of “The Organization” who are planning to kill him as soon as he leads them to the satellite. Jerry takes Roy to a helicopter he has on the roof, and they fly back to Jerry’s house. During the flight, Roy notices an antler-shaped tattoo on the back of Jerry’s neck.

At Jerry’s house, Roy aims the gun at Jerry, saying he knows he isn’t part of the FBI. Jerry knows Roy won’t shoot, but before Roy even gets the chance, a secret panel opens and out walk Mr. Stitch, Mr. Random, and Mr. Chow. Roy says he’s going to use the satellite’s ‘Oblivion’ technology to incinerate Rockwell on the Fourth of July. Then he will threaten to set it on the polar ice caps, putting a sizeable chunk of the population underwater. Turns out, the Rockwell thing was Pam’s idea — she’s another ring-leader. They tie Roy to a chair so they can figure out what to do with him.

It also turns out that the pink flamingoes are robotic, so Wolfgang sends them into Jerry’s house to attack. With them distracted, Roy uses some rocket boots to launch himself through a skylight. Pam blows up Spot with an explosive Jell-O mold. Bob and Dave, the FBI agents, pull Roy into an anonymous white van and try to get him to work for the FBI. Roy doesn’t trust them and bails. He reunites with Ian, who shoots Mr. Chow. Meanwhile, Jake has escaped from Grandma’s house. Pam grabs him and stuffs him into the Maguffin Winnebago. Roy is horrified and enraged. While Wolfgang and Moira take out guests at the Maguffin’s Tupperware party, Roy discovers that the Maguffins also have Ellie and Phoebe — and that the Winnebago is actually a tunnel-excavator. It burrows into the ground.

In the middle of the night, the Sterlings and Roy try to regroup. It occurs to Roy that the antlers signified the Yaks Club — that’s where they’re hiding out. Roy is afraid that Jerry will do something to the family, but Ian makes him realize this is a risk he needs to take. Wolfgang decks Roy out in his very own spy suit.

The group storms the Yaks Club, taking out guards, infiltrating the secret underground lair beneath the not-so-secret clubhouse. While Roy rushes off to rescue his family, the Sterlings work together to keep Jerry and Pam from shooting the ‘Oblivion’ ray. Although they are able to nab Pam, Jerry gets away — and he grabs Roy, shoves him into the helicotper, and takes off. The Sterlings also can’t stop the death ray. So now, they have to both outrun the ray and stop Jerry. They narrowly manage to do both, and Bob and Dave offer Roy a full-time job with the FBI. Roy declines — he’s the Tax Man.

Comments:

Some things about this screenplay work pretty well. It moves along at a breezy clip, packing a ridiculous amount of (largely unnecessary) information and plot twists into 112 pages. The dialogue, while often problematic, is generally amusing. The very concept of a Bond-esque spy moving into a suburban neighborhood is funny, and although the plot is far too convoluted, it has its share of solid moments. It could transform into a very good, commercially appealing script, but it’s not there yet.

Here’s where it goes wrong: the big first-act twist sets up this new idea that Ian Sterling has done such a poor job of fitting in that he needs Roy to coach him. This is a funny take on the tried-and-true fish-out-of-water concept that the writer does not exploit at all. As soon as this twist is introduced, it’s forgotten, instead plunging Roy into the wild world of espionage, which isn’t nearly as funny and has been done before (and better). From that point on, it becomes much too plot-oriented. Occasional attempts at showing the characters are growing and changing are awkwardly shoehorned in, but it’s mostly just a dizzying torrent of expository dialogue, explaining and reexplaining the plot and the kinks that have popped up. Slowing down and simplifying the plot, and spending more of the second act really digging into this idea of a suave British playboy spy failing to conform to suburbia, would improve the story quite a bit. The fundamentals are there, with Roy trying to learn from Ian and vice-versa, but it’s an afterthought.

Similarly, Roy’s strained relationship with his wife and son (daughter Phoebe is ignored until Mr. Chow becomes a plot point), and his existential crisis about his station in life, could all serve to make him a much more compelling character with much more interesting conflicts. He’s a man who lives to serve his family, but he still wants more. Then he wets his beak with “more” and realizes it’s not for him. His conflicts with Ellie and Jake are fairly generic and do very little to get at the subtext of Roy’s problem. On some level, it seems like he should be a bit resentful of his family, and his major arc is realizing, when they’re endangered, how truly important they are and how much he’d sacrifice for them. Again, the fundamentals are there, but the writer does almost nothing with these shades to the Banner family.

The humor could also use a bit of punching up. The satire isn’t as sharp as it could be, concentrating mostly on references that were dated and/or overused in 2002 (Howard Johnson’s, Tupperware parties), the year this draft is dated. Some of the other pop-culture references were contemporary for 2002 but have since passed out of the zeitgeist (Pokémon, The Ricki Lake Show). However, with a solid rewrite (maybe two), The Spy Next Door could be a really entertaining action-comedy.

Since the James Bond franchise made a huge comeback (in box-office and quality) with Casino Royale, the market may be poised for a spoof. This would appeal to both fans of comedy and fans of action, since it does a reasonably good job of blending the two. Since the story also has a family element to it and doesn’t involve anything terribly risqué, it may be big with family audiences

Posted by D. B. Bates on September 24, 2008 9:15 PM