Author: Erik Jendresen
Writer’s Potential: 9
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Later, the three detectives are on the scene, and Johnny tries to explain what happened. They wonder why corpses turn up wherever Cruz goes. Cruz leaves them to go back to his office. ANTON “THE PRO” PROTOPOV, a 7-foot, 330-pound ex-boxer, arrives at Cruz’s office to hire him. He hands Cruz a photo of the most beautiful woman Cruz has ever seen, signed “Lexie Persimmon.” Anton tells Cruz he’s been recently released from prison, a fact Cruz already knows. Anton is the notorious boxer who was paid $30 million in diamonds to take a dive on behalf of a Russian mobster, which he did — after killing his opponent in the ring. The opponent happened to be the mobster’s son, and when the mobster himself turned up dead soon after, Anton was sent up for the murder (of note: Frizer, Skeres, and Poley were the arresting officers). While in prison, Anton started a pen-pal relationship with Lexie Persimmon. He gives Cruz a wad of $100s and a duffel bag containing 260 letters from Lexie. His task: find her and bring her back to Anton.
Anton accompanies Cruz to Minkowski’s, a strip club where Lexie worked. Cruz asks around, but nobody knows her. Anton climbs up on stage and gets rough with one of the strippers, causing security to attempt to taser him. Anton can’t be brought down so easily. After dispatching the bouncers, Anton drags Cruz to the back entrance to avoid the police. Cruz convinces Anton it’s best for him to work alone, to avoid incidents like that. He digs up information on the owner of Minkowski’s, PUSS, who also runs a porn studio in the Valley. Cruz pays Puss a visit there. Puss doesn’t know Lexie, but he only purchased the club a few years ago. He directs Cruz to Minkowski’s widow, JENNY WIGNER, who ran the club for a year after Minkowski’s death. It’s around this time that Cruz notices a black Town Car tailing him. In the present-day interrogation, the detectives inform Cruz that Puss was found dead the day after Cruz visited him. Cruz is surprised. Meth-addicted Jenny works as an “actress” pretending to have disease symptoms for the benefit of medical students. Jenny remembers the face in the photo but not the name. He remembers her as a Jewel or Julie. Cruz checks out the return address where Anton had sent all of his letters. He finds it abandoned. While surveilling, Cruz notices the mailman skips the address out of hand. He bribes the mailman for information; the mailman explains that the address forwards to general delivery in a backwater town called San Celeritas, New Mexico. Cruz returns to his office and finds it’s been trashed. He initially suspected Anton of tailing him, but Anton would have no reason to trash the office. Cruz assumes they’re after the love letters, but he has no idea why. The only way to find out: drive to San Celeritas.
San Celeritas is a tiny town with a railroad but no station — it’s been converted into a café where blue-collar truckers eat and socialize in harmony with nerdy scientists and turban-wearing Sikhs in security uniforms. Cruz flirts with FAY NEMAN (20s), the attractive space-cadet waitress. She explains that this town, and all the land around and under it, was purchased by genius billionaire SIMON KESTREL, who built a large hadron collider under the town that’s off-limits to everyone. Cruz shows Fay the photo of Lexie; she doesn’t know her. Cruz realizes this café is also a post office and FedEx station. Cruz takes Fay to the motel room where she leaves. As they have sex, she explains various physics-related tattoos covering her body. Afterward, Fay explains to Cruz the purpose of the collider: Kestrel’s going to recreate the Big Bang in an effort to find “the God particle,” the kernel of life from which the universe was born. Cruz asks Fay about how the postal service works. Fay says it doesn’t; everyone sends mail with FedEx, and so few people get mail, it all goes to general delivery, and people simply take theirs when it comes. Cruz’s gut tells him to trust her, so Cruz shows Fay all 260 love letters and tells her everything he’s learned so far. In the interrogation, Frizer announces that he doesn’t believe a word of this. Cruz tries to argue with him, but Frizer notes that they don’t have time — the sooner dawn comes, the sooner Cruz is out of their hands and stuck explaining himself to the local authorities.
Cruz asks Fay to get him access to the ATM firm that manufactured the ATM in the café, because the security cameras would have picked up the person sending Anton the love letters. At this point, Cruz starts doubting her existence altogether. That night, Cruz spots the Lincoln Town Car in the parking lot of the motel. He tries to open the door, but it’s locked. He can see nothing through the tinted windows. Cruz returns to his room, and a punch to the face knocks him out. Cruz wakes inside the particle collider. Simon Kestrel (50s, sunburned stoner) apologizes for his Sikh security team roughing him up. Kestrel explains exactly what his goal is — to find the ultimate answers — and warns Cruz that asking personal questions is a waste of time that could get him hurt. Cruz manages to charm Kestrel into inviting him to dinner the following evening. He’s returned to the motel, where he finds the Town Car gone. Instead of sleeping, Cruz continues to examine the letters for some other clue. He discovers one that suggests Anton told Lexie where to find the diamonds and asked her to take them and bury them in the desert, because money no longer means anything to either of them. Shortly thereafter, he discovers Anton hiding in the bathroom, demanding to know where Lexie is and why Anton never called him. Cruz demands to know who’s following him in the Town Car. Anton doesn’t know; he’s simply followed Cruz in order to protect Lexie. Cruz points out that they still need to find her.
Fay gets Cruz the username and password for the ATM company’s security server. Cruz scrolls through the footage and discovers the identity of the person sending the letters. Kestrel’s security team picks Cruz up and takes him to Kestrel’s mansion. Cruz is introduced to Kestrel’s wife — JULIE, the woman in the photo signed “Lexie Persimmon.” Cruz is stunned. Kestrel casually insults Cruz, offending Julie in the process, but it rolls right off Cruz’s back. Kestrel introduces his right-hand man, DR. NIELS GECK (30s), the prodigy physicist who built Kestrel’s collider. Cruz asks Geck about the God particle, which Geck compares it to love: it’s something that must exist, because it can be felt, but it’s never been seen. Based on the conversation, Cruz gets the impression Julie doesn’t like her husband’s fractured sense of morality, in which the many engineers who have died creating his collider are each responsible for their own deaths because of human error, which only they can control. Geck explains the possibility of the collider swallowing the Earth but says it’s unlikely. Geck then excuses himself to go to his nearby home. Kestrel goes to the collider, leaving Cruz alone with Julie. She’s surprised to learn he came to New Mexico for her.
Julie tells Cruz that Kestrel will start the collider tomorrow. Cruz observes that they have bigger problems: Anton has arrived at the mansion, and he’s not happy. Cruz mentions his name casually, but Julie doesn’t know the name. Cruz thinks she’s faking it. He shows her the headshot signed “Lexie Persimmon,” which horrifies Julie. She says she buried everything from her “old life” in the desert. Cruz quickly realizes she sincerely doesn’t know Anton. They run out into the desert as a lightning storm begins. Krestel’s security force tries to stop Anton, but they can’t. Cruz and Julie run into a small home isolated in the middle of the desert. It’s Geck’s house. Anton tries to beat down the door. Cruz reveals that Geck was the man he saw mailing the last letter to Anton. Julie realizes Geck would know all the true information he inserted into Lexie’s fake life, including her time stripping at Minkowski’s (Geck was a customer, and he introduced her to Kestrel). They burst into Geck’s bedroom and find him dressed in a wig and women’s clothing.
Anton finally breaks into the house. Cruz tells Geck to tell Anton where the diamonds are. Anton doesn’t care about the diamonds — he only cares about Lexie. Cruz tries to make Anton understand that Geck is Lexie, but this confuses and infuriates him. Anton tosses Cruz aside like a ragdoll, causing him to hit his head. Just before Anton loses consciousness, the room erupts in gunfire. Cruz tells the detectives this brings them up to speed: when he woke, he couldn’t see, and the three of them were interrogating him. He also drops the bombshell that he finally realized who had been tailing him: the three of them. He speculates that they knew about the diamonds all along and were following Cruz in the hope that, eventually, he’d lead them to the loot. The cops are agitated that he figured it out. Poley beats Cruz, pounding his head again, hard enough that Cruz’s sight starts to come back.
Cruz sees Julie tied to a chair. He continues to fake blindness for the cops’ benefit. They drag him through what is revealed to be Geck’s house, past the bullet-ridden bodies of Anton and Geck, and they’re ready to kill both him and Julie when Cruz sees the diamonds glinting insides Geck’s gecko terrarium. He announces he knows where the diamonds are, but he can’t see. He says Julie also knows, but she doesn’t know she knows, so with the help of the two of them, they can lead the detectives to the diamonds. If they kill either of them, they’ll never find the diamonds.
The detectives handcuff Cruz and Julie together in the backseat of the Town Car. Julie leads them to the spot in the desert where she buried the remnants of her old life, which happens to be right on top of the collider. Kestrel has his men warm up the collider as he sparks up a joint. Frizer and Skeres dig for the “diamonds” while Poley keeps his eye on Cruz and Julie. Poley realizes Cruz can see, but it’s too late: Cruz and Julie strangle him with their handcuffs. He struggles, hitting the gas. Thinking he’s fleeing, Frizer and Skeres start shooting at the Town Car. Poley crashes into a telephone pole, throwing Cruz into the front seat. Cruz shoves Poley aside, trying to push him out of the car, but Poley hangs on for dear life — until his face gets caught on a cactus. Cruz manages to grab Poley’s gun and empties it into Frizer and Skeres.
Without Geck in the control room, everything goes wrong with the collider. The control room is obliterated, and the “big bang” starts to expand. Cruz and Julie attempt to outrun it in the Town Car. In the end, it creates an eight-mile crater in the desert, which Cruz and Julie barely manage to escape. They pick up the diamonds and Fay and hit the road back to L.A.
Ned Cruz is a classic film noir antihero: a tough-as-nails wise-ass with a personal code of ethics that trumps the law. It’s a pitch-perfect portrayal that uses a well-worn archetype without resorting to cheesy clichés. The writer also creates a disturbing menagerie of despicable characters to fill out the seamy underbelly of Los Angeles. Every single character — including relatively minor roles like the three detectives and Johnny Nova, the movie star who appears in just one early scene — is imbued with remarkable depth and individuality.
The story mimics the classic structure of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, starting with a relatively innocuous assignment — Cruz searching for an ex-boxer’s stripper girlfriend — and using that to both unravel an elaborate conspiracy and glimpse the desperate lives of criminals both big (Simon Krestel, the billionaire megalomaniac running a private army to protect his bizarre science experiments) and small (Puss, the porn director).
After establishing a framing device that pays homage to Murder, My Sweet (a bandaged, blinded detective explaining his story to three corrupt detectives), the bizarre opening sequence does a terrific job of establishing Cruz’s tough-yet-ethical personality using only his reactions to Johnny Nova’s violent temper (setting his agent on fire and tossing him out a window) and depraved lifestyle (keeping a woman chained in a dungeon). Once the real story begins with Anton hiring Cruz, the rest of the first act starts peeling back the layers of this mystery.
The second act introduces the offbeat town of San Celeritas, New Mexico, which is when the story really comes into its own. Combining a seemingly anachronistic genre with hard science is a gamble that pays off, surprisingly. It allows the writer to explore more eccentric characters with dark secrets and criminal leanings. The only real narrative flaws crop up in the third act, when the writer occasionally overexplains loose ends that aren’t loose enough to necessitate long explanations (such as the pointless story behind the name “Lexie Persimmon,” a pun on a Latin phrase). Otherwise, the third act leads to a satisfying resolution that ties all the narrative elements together exceedingly well. Plus, it gives audiences a well-earned happy ending that doesn’t undermine the grim setting and characters.
This is a really outstanding script that manages to remain fast-paced and crowd-pleasing despite the preoccupation with astrophysics. Even a sloppy, poorly executed production may not hurt it.
Posted by D. B. Bates on October 24, 2009 10:07 PM