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The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

Sometimes, if you read scripts, you enter a weird, “Twilight Zone”-like space where you read purely putrescent screenplays that are being made with big stars and big directors. You stop, look around, and wonder if the world has gone mad. Is it possible, you ask yourself, that all these intelligent, experienced people really wanted to commit themselves to thisr Things were righted on this project, but it’s still a fair question why it got so far.

“The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” is a typical Hollywood comedy. It’s about a womanizing cad by the name of Colin Mead. He’s a handsome fashion photographer who has apparently slept with every attractive female in the world. Though he is a bitterly malicious man — even insulting these women to their faces — they still flock to him. Hell, this guy is so “smooth” (though we’re not sure why) that one Britney Spears-type singer undresses him while he’s telling her that he’s using her.

Colin has to get over to Vegas, where his brother Paul is getting married to the stressed-out Sandra. Colin is an unwelcome guest at the rehearsal, since he’s slept with every bridesmaid, and because he’s rather vocal in his anti-love, anti-marriage stance.

The marriage will happen at the house of Colin’s uncle Wayne, who took care of the brothers when their parents died. Wayne taught Colin everything he knew: about how to remain a shallow man with nothing on your mind but getting into a woman’s pants; he gave lessons on how to pick women up, how to trick them into sex, how to use their own emotions against them — the cad’s handbook, more or less, and Colin grew up to be the lonely, oversexed (and wholly Hollywood-created) man he is today.

During the night Colin is visited by a girl he dated (for a few hours) in high school. Ugly, with braces stuffing her mouth, she is the Ghost of Girlfriends Past. She takes Colin back in time to show him his first relationship. It was with Jamie, his neighbor and best friend, who also happens to be at the wedding, and who Colin pitifully gives wistful, hopeful glances to (just in case you really thought he was a bad guy). We find out that the young Colin was a shy, awkward kid who blew his shot with Jamie when he was too embarrassed to kiss her. She ends up making out with some disgusting boy, which breaks Colin’s heart, and when Wayne sees how upset the kid is, he takes him out for some Jack and teaches him the way of the chauvinist. Colin happens to run into Jamie again, when they’re in their twenties, and they rediscover their friendship. Jamie doesn’t give in easily to Colin’s charms and makes him work at the relationship: she doesn’t sleep with him until he has shed the heavy armor of his insecurities and past thinking. Jamie and Colin finally make sweet, sweet movie love, and it looks like things are going to be great, and both are totally in love, and then Colin, scared by his own feelings and the possibility he could get hurt (again, as it was in the past), immediately cheats and ruins the relationship.

Back at the wedding, Colin lets it slip that Paul slept with one of the bridesmaids while he was dating Sandra. He also demolishes the wedding cake and makes a complete ass of himself. In other words, he wrecks his brother’s nuptials. The Ghost of Girlfriends Present, which is somewhat offensively written as a loud, brash, African-American woman, gives Colin a tour of all the women he’s been with recently: a line of beautiful females that literally stretches into infinity. (Right now some guy sitting alone on a Saturday night washing down a Big Mac with a Schlitz beer is thinking, “He sleeps with thousands of hot chicks and somehow he’s the loneliest man in the worldr Where do I sign upr”) Realizing what a horrible person he is, and later seeing that if he breaks up his brother’s marriage that his brother will end up just like him, Colin races back to the house, chases down the bride, and gives an end-of-movie monologue about the joys of love and why he is the way he is (too scared about being hurt) and blah, blah, blah. Sandra and Paul embrace. Jamie overheard him, and of course she tells him she’s been waiting her entire life to hear him say this. They get together, and then a spaceship lands and aliens come out and announce they will give Earth a device that spreads peace and love throughout the world. Okay, I made up that thing about the aliens.

Aside from its effective premise and its catchy title, there’s nothing redeemable about “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” It reads like a teen novice’s first crack at a romantic comedy. The jokes, which crumble in your hands from age, feel like they were lifted from ’50s comedy-club sets. Colin is written like an ersatz Howard Stern, only without the disarming appeal, wit and string of hilarious humor. It’s distressing that the writers couldn’t even get the bad-boy, man-as-sexist-pig humor right. And every time Colin calls a woman a broad, or makes some second-grader’s idea of sexual innuendo, it’s all undercut because we’re not allowed to forget, not even for a second, that Colin is actually a lonesome, forlorn dude looking for love. The writers have Colin spout off a lot about different groups and things that offend him, and more often than not, they completely get their facts wrong. Colin continues to pine for his youthful glory days, when casual sex wasn’t shameful, but how old is this guyr Mid-thirtiesr He was an itch in his daddy’s pants during the sexual revolution. And if he thinks the young have tightened their belts today, he needs to start watching the news a bit more.

This is one of those Hollywood scripts where you’re supposed to believe women are so undiscerning that they’d claw their skin to be with a guy who shows neither charisma or basic intelligence. Its idea is that if you ignore a woman, or talk to her friend instead of her, her vanity will explode so righteously that she’ll sleep with you even if you look like Jerry Stiller’s ugly brother. Colin, and men like him, are supposed to be the ones being scorned, but don’t kid yourself: this script is all about the easy gullibility of women and how simple it is to trick them. Any shy guy out there, who ignored women plenty and went home empty-handed, knows the falsehood of all this: women don’t want to be overlooked, and in my experience I’ve noticed that guys with a rap, guys who can make women laugh, guys who don’t check women out like creeps from afar, do pretty well.

I’m guessing that the William Baldwin section of “Flatliners” inspired this screenplay. The scene where the women who Colin has slept with confront him is lifted straight out of that film. It’s amusing to me that today, as it was then, there’s hell to pay if you sleep around. If you use women, if you sleep with women and don’t call them back, if you promise one thing and don’t deliver, if you’re an emotional tyrant, your dreams will be haunted by your misdeeds! Cue the lightning and thunder. Isn’t it well known that if you live this bachelor lifestyle you’ll be lonely foreverr And don’t you know that anyone who’s single when they’re old is desperate for love and companionship and is miserabler Didn’t you know being alone, on your own, is a freaky proposition equivalent to the Bataan Death Marchr I’m starting to wonder: did reality inspire screenwriters with this line of thinking, or was it the other way aroundr And since writers can’t shake these notions, will it continue to remain “fact”r It would seem that disposable trivialities like “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” don’t leave footprints, but their old-school way of thinking, their pinch-eyed, retread, romantic-comedy worldviews, are insinuating their way into people’s opinions of themselves and the world.

This all does have a happy ending. And I’m not talking about how Colin and Jamie shack up. Disney rightly shot this project down just as it was going to be filmed. I envision it this way: Prior to “Gigli,” everyone wanted Affleck to do projects with them. Ben, who has no sense of material, liked this enough to make it. Disney happily played along, paid him fifteen million dollars, and gave the green light to what they expected to be a hip, cool-take-on-an-old-tale romantic comedy. “Gigli” soon bombed, someone actually read this script, and suddenly “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” was a hideous beast charging the Disney gates. Everyone panicked. After a nail-biting few minutes, as the snorting, scurfy beast neared closer, its fecal redolence clouding the air, they made the ultimate decision: cut it down. Snipers rushed onto the parapet, guns in hand, and shot down the beast just as it was upon their outer walls. The day was saved — almost. Disney then had to coddle Affleck by agreeing to make some basketball drama about a white coach and his black team. Well, I guess some ills are a little less ill than others.

Displaying the magnetism of a corpulent, balding, pushing-fifties man in tight pants, and grooving like someone who’s been locked away for fifty years, “The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” is a nightmare of convention, bad plotting, reused-from-other-films characters, lackadaisical effort and unfunny jokes. For the reader, it is like being visited by the Ghost of Bad Movies Past. You get to relive all those bad romantic comedies you’ve seen about jerks who find redemption, in slow, agonizing, laugh-free detail. This script, dated September 07, 2003, was written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. The film has now been pushed back into the development phase.

Rating: F
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3001

Mike Judge’s “3001” has one of the most potent, high-concept comedy premises I’ve seen in quite a while. It amalgamates the plots of Woody Allen’s “Sleeper,” the cartoon “Futurama” and the J.J. Abrams-scripted “Forever Young.” It adds to these ideas, though, the gloriously ripe notion that an average man wakes up a thousand years in the future to find a race so dumbed-down that he is its smartest person. That’s a conceit begging for material, and while “3001” is an amusing script, it never quite lives up to that bright shining light of a premise.

Continue reading “3001”

Rating: D+
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Corrections, The

Franzen’s big, bad, ambitious novel, which reads like a family drama by Wolfe, is somewhat like the modern-day “Moby-Dick”: you’re supposed to have read it, and if you haven’t, you lie and say you did. The book, which reveals the tale of the dysfunctional Lambert clan, is at times painfully beautiful and insightful, at times staggeringly pretentious, and manages to make the family’s story represent America in the ‘90s.

Its adaptation, by David Hare (“The Hours,” “The Blue Room”), a veteran screenwriter, director and playwright, is a translation by subtraction. Hare, displaying not even an ounce of understanding for the original work, melts down Franzen’s plot, hacks at large sections of it, keeps the basic spine, and presents a work as hollow, emotionless and impersonal as the book was vibrant, involving and vigorous.

In the simplest possible terms, “The Corrections” was about three unhappy kids and two unhappy parents. But it was, of course, about so much more than that. Besides distilling the feeling that was in the air during the boom ‘90s years here in the States, the book also dug deep into each of its characters — with sidetracks about railroad companies, neurobiology, Lithuania — until they were each a living, breathing person. Until the point where they stopped being an author’s creation and instead felt like someone you knew. And all with a sharp sense of humor and irony that never left the book, not even in its most serious circumstances. It was this dense, important Great American Novel, full of ribald high jinks, brimming with ideas, stop-offs in the bizarre (two things you don’t normally read in Oprah selections: a talking turd and a man making love to a couch), and even past all its flaws, even past the times when Franzen was massaging his ego, you definitely felt you had something special in your hands.

You can’t blame Hare for failing. Almost anyone would. You can blame him for how he failed. This is a phoned-in work. This is typing and not writing. This is a lazy attempt that doesn’t even try to make something meaningful of itself. What an adaptation like this becomes is one of those kids’ games, where you’re shown a picture and have to find the hidden items. You squint your eyes and stare, locating what you recognize. Alfred, Enid, Denise, Chip and Gary are all still around. Alfred is suffering from Parkinson’s. Enid is still quite the miserable, passive-aggressive woman she was in the book (and still trying to get everyone together for “one last Christmas”). Denise is a chef on the rise and still has an affair with a husband and a wife and wrecks their marriage. Chip still has his tryst with his student, gets fired from his college, tries to write a screenplay and ends up in Lithuania. Gary still has the same depression and awful homelife with his odious wife and their three kids. All the stuff you can skim from the surface of the
novel is here. But in its present form, without Franzen’s language and probing prose, without the deeper meanings there, it is nothing higher than any drama you can catch on TV.

Hare seems to think his job was to squeeze as much of Franzen’s plot into his 160 pages as he could. But by packing everything in, uncouthly and heedlessly, the stacked-together elements lose any significance. And in the worst cases, they become ridiculous. Hare skips Denise’s first lesbian relationship and her marriage to an older guy, and then shows her getting shocked in one of those sexual epiphanies by Robin, her new boss’s wife, and Hare makes it appear as though the straight Denise simply got turned on by Robin and that’s why she pursues her. And then, though it makes little sense, but has to be there because it was this way in the book, Denise goes after Brian, her boss and Robin’s husband. When you take two hundred pages and boil them down to four scenes, things stop being logical. Hare ends up artlessly sticking gobs of information in his characters’ mouths. To make people understand what’s going on, and to do his work of fleshing out the characters, he has everyone explaining who everyone is.

Reading this adaptation of “The Corrections” had me as depressed as Gary and Alfred. A script has never gotten me so down in my life. Maybe it was the intense, four-day experience I had with the novel. Maybe it’s that a lot of “The Corrections” cuts close to the bone for me. But mostly it was a feeling of despair. Here’s this terrific piece of literature and the man adapting it has no idea who these people are or what the story symbolizes. Anyone, even a first-time writer, could have delivered a script as good or better than this one. It feels like such a waste. It feels like Hare wrote this with the thought in his mind that the script would never get made.

Hare fails in the large sense, and also in small ways, too. There are times when the characters clearly step outside themselves and lose connection to who they’re supposed to be. The subtlest and yet most gigantic sign of this has to be after the scene where Denise is trying to help the afflicted, incontinent Alfred with his exercises. Denise worships her father, and when his bladder lets loose while she’s with him, she is embarrassed for both of them. In the book she leaves the room and says that Alfred wet the bed. In the script Hare feels the need to change the line to “He’s pissed himself.” It may sound like nothing, but this exemplifies how little Hare gets who these people are. There’s no way Denise would further embarrass Alfred by saying this. Saying he wet the bed is mitigating things. Using the softest euphemism she can think of. Saying he’s pissed himself is angry. If things weren’t bad enough, Hare doesn’t even bother, with his dialogue annexations, to make his characters talk like people speak in America. He couldn’t even do that. (Which just proves he’s clearly the right guy for this project, nor) Two different characters use the word “spoilt.” Two different people! Sorry, but no one in America says “spoilt.” They say “spoiled.” So when an American professor says all these young kids are spoilt, it leaves you no other recourse than to hang your head and sigh. And then to have another character use the same word shows that no one is speaking their own language, with their own inflections and cadences, but that they’re all nothing but the screenwriter’s mouthpiece. Later someone uses “shan’t.” You have to ask yourself: when’s the last time you heard someone say “I shan’t see you”r I’m guessing never. Are you starting to see the problem herer Are you starting to get just how little interest Hare had in this projectr The guy didn’t even bother to erase such obvious inaccuracies as Americans saying “spoilt” and “shan’t”! So is it any surprise that Gary, robbing the idea of all import, later announces that Alfred has a gun and is planning on shooting himselfr Or that it’s impossible to understand who Enid is, despite that everyone tries to spell out her annoying, obsessive faultsr Or that Chip’s story is a lot less compelling when you find out absolutely nothing about him, and don’t hear about his complex, nearly fearful relationship with his father, even though he’s told, outright, that he’s the favorite son (a revelation the Chip in the book might have been knocked back a step by)r

Things need to be cut and reshaped in adaptations. And it’s not surprising to find that the experimental procedure that might help Alfred’s Parkinson’s disease, a drama about one of his patents, his history with the railroad, and his delusions of attacking turds, were all cut. But you have to wonder why Hare would chop out the hilarious scene where Chip, who has little money and wanders into an overpriced market, shoves a fish down his pants to steal it. And with everything else packed in, why take away the most heart-rending moment in the bookr When Denise finds out Alfred prematurely quit his job, which set them back financially, for her. Because while she was working in signals she had an affair with a coworker, who came to Alfred, saying he’d expose this if he wasn’t moved with the rest of the team as the company merged. Not to risk Denise embarrassment, Alfred quit his job and never mentioned it to her. It is an awful, awful moment for Denise, the only person in the book who is truly sympathetic. We don’t get this shattering moment, but you do hear Denise clumsily vocalize Franzen’s testament that with Alfred “love isn’t a matter of approaching; it’s a matter of keeping away.” Needless to say, this doesn’t quite pack the same emotional punch.

The bottom line is this: as hard as it might be, as great as the work is, as much as you want to see it come to life, sometimes books should remain books. Sometimes letting a book exist as a book is the best gift you can give it. With sprawling tales rendering a time and place, and with lengths and depths unmatched by any movie, novels like “The Corrections,” “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” “Freedomland,” “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” and “A Man in Full” should stay as words on a page. To turn them into movies is to cripple a favorite child.

Without hearing their thoughts, the characters in “The Corrections” are compacted into irritating fools. While some scenes, lifted straight from the book, still cause a chuckle, overall this grotesque chip-away of an outstanding novel feels like nothing much at all — shallow folks dancing through unconnected behavior. With 160 pages at his disposal, Hare does nothing to translate the emotional resonance of the book. You never get to know anyone. You never even get close to what’s going inside these people’s minds. And since the main characters are left unknown, it goes without saying that Gary’s kids and wife, Robin and Brian, Chip’s girlfriend and cohort, and everyone else in the story is shortchanged as well. Hare lays out Franzen’s plot in chronological order and hides behind the book’s substance and hopes enough people have read it to pick up on what’s supposed to be affecting us.

Uninspiring and at times bizarrely neophyte-like, this adaptation of “The Corrections” makes the case that Hollywood and literature need not always join hands. This undated draft was written by David Hare. The screenplay is based on the novel by Jonathan Franzen.

Rating: D
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Lord of War

Andrew Niccol’s latest script takes him out of the fablized world of his other movies and grounds him in reality. The themes remain the same, but this time the characters in Niccol’s script exist in the world we find around us. Rather than pique the powers that made Niccol’s early work so staggering, this based-on-real-events script proves to be his worst screenplay yet.

To put it simply, “Lord of War” is “GoodFellas” with the Mafia replaced by gunrunning. Yuri Orlov (not to be confused with physicist Yuri Orlov, whose amazing life story would make an excellent film) and his family flee the USSR in 1980 by pretending to be Jewish and end up in New York’s Little Odessa. Yuri becomes a U.N. peacekeeper, but soon figures out he can make good money by selling weapons illegally to foreign fighters. Before long, the business, which he runs with his brother Vitaly, is booming, and when the Cold War ends there are so many guns on the black market Yuri can’t sell them fast enough. In Russia, where Yuri has an “in” with the apathetic army, it is a gunrunner’s paradise; he sells everything from helicopters to armored personnel carriers to entire tank divisions. It’s a sick, deadly all-must-go sale. Eventually Yuri’s misdeeds catch up to him, ripping apart his family.

The script is an episodic, postcard layout of the gunrunner life. We see Yuri make his way up the food chain, narrowly avoid arrest in wily ways and blithely witness the carnage his product aids. Yuri may ramble on and on in voice-over, but he never really lets us inside. He is a shallow man in a dent-deep story that doesn’t have much to say. Along the way Yuri gets paid in cocaine and his brother, without preamble, becomes a raving addict. He’s cut from the team and put in rehab (which never quite works). Yuri falls instantly in love with a Miss World winner named Ava Cordova. He fakes his way into her heart by renting out an entire resort hotel and wooing her with his money. They get together, marry, and have a kid. Yuri is given an archvillain, Interpol agent Valentine, who seems to always be nipping at Yuri’s heels. We’re supposed to believe that Ava never knew he dealt in guns, and that the only way for the good guys to bust him is by catching him in the act, when clearly they could have checked his finances (which he has no excuse for) or had someone testify against him.

It’s clear that Niccol did not have his heart in this project. He’s apparently going forward with it, with Nicolas Cage and Monica Bellucci starring, but the script is a mess. Its biggest problem is that Niccol wants to present Yuri as a rakish, hip antihero whose criminal activities can be sympathized with. For most of the script Niccol is cracking jokes. What this guy does, though, is reprehensible. He’s the man selling guns to places like Monrovia, and his weapons are currently being used to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not exactly someone you want to laugh along with. Not exactly someone it’s easy to like. After telling us Yuri is impervious to conscience, and showing us his disinterest when people are killed with his guns, and having Yuri talk about how it’s all about the money, Niccol makes Yuri flip out when a client of his kills one of his rivals in his presence. How can he dismiss the deaths of thousands happening a few feet from him, but go into a downward spiral because someone he despises, and tried to kill him, is murdered a few inches awayr

When Yuri’s brother suddenly figures out what gunrunning is about and tries to save a village of innocents who are about to get slaughtered, and gets cut down like an animal for his efforts, you’ll find that you’re almost snickering at Niccol’s block-headed, have-it-both-ways nonsense.

You only come to the point of this script in the last few pages. After slogging through its length, wondering why Niccol bothered when it was so clear he had no emotional involvement, you arrive at his Big, Political Point: he’s out to stick it to the Americans. Yuri is finally arrested by Valentine, and after Valentine tells him what a sleaze he is, Yuri launches into a monologue about how the United States is the biggest arms dealer in the world, and that what he did doesn’t come close to comparing to what the Americans have done. He then states the President was involved in his gun deals and waltzes out of custody. This might be the devastating, flash-bang statement it wants to be — maybe — if Niccol didn’t have his facts all wrong, and if he didn’t contradict this idea throughout the preceding pages. What Niccol is telling us here is this: Yuri’s attitude, his cold heart and his disregard for others, his money- and me-first way of living, his willingness to put guns in the hands of people who are killing civilians, his smugness, is all a representation of how America has dealt with its neighbors. All this and that’s what it comes tor That he thinks America’s foreign policy stinksr I would have thought Niccol would have come up with a more artful way to say it.

With punchlines about Osama bin Laden and enough antithetical elements to make your head spin, Niccol does what he seems to have wanted to: he turns international tragedies and America’s foreign policy into a joke. This undated draft was written by Academy Award nominee Andrew Niccol, who will serve as the film’s director. Nicolas Cage and Monica Bellucci will star, with filming expected to begin early this year in South Africa.

Rating: D-
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The Weather Man

“The Weather Man,” which will star Nic Cage, Michael Caine and Hope Davis, and be directed by Gore Verbinski, is the story of sad sack, stuck-in-the-fog-of-disappointment Dave Spritz (ne Dave Spritzel). He has nominal success — a well-paying, easy job as the local news station’s weatherman — but he has just arrived at a point in his life where he’s looking around and seeing that he’s failed at everything that matters to him: he’s laid waste to the relationships in his life. To his ex-wife, who is now dating another man; to his two children; and to his novelist father. On the eve of what could be a huge career move, he fights to mend all the broken bonds.

There’s unfortunately only one interesting character in this script. And it’s Dave. You see, Dave is pretty much a loser. His job is a sham (he doesn’t even know anything about the weather); people throw food at him from cars; his ability to communicate with others is dismal; and he still can’t get past, at this late date, the disapproval and apathy of his great-writer father (he even attempts to write a book himself and fails miserably). But Dave is also, however, insane. The guy’s a psychopath. What you see in this script is a man who’s cracked. But cracked in this subtle, passive way. His anger lashes out, at first, in weak fashion. As this story moves, his appetite for destruction gets bolder. Conrad doesn’t paint this in neon red. You may even miss that you’re reading one of the cleverest, most guileful representations of madness. It’s like “The Killer Inside Me,” written by Alan Ball.

Because Dave suffers while drifting in this saturated, downer haze. That’s where the good ideas come in. Dave isn’t what you expect, and his actions never match the predictable. Like when he spontaneously throws a snowball at his wife and hits her right between the eyes. When he hilariously slaps his wife’s boyfriend across the face with his glove with supreme disdain. When he falls devotedly into archery and contemplates shooting the boyfriend through the head. When Dave forgetting tartar sauce is shown as an example of his selfishness, and we’re given a glimpse into his going-a-million-miles-a-minute brain on the day, and hear the stream-of-consciousness babble that made him forget.

There’s an anarchist and an absurdist bursting in screenwriter Conrad. But he sticks Dave, and all these original ideas, in a world of hackneyed characters. Dave’s daughter is overweight, getting teased at school, and smoking; Dave’s son is being preyed on by a child molester (other than that, he has no personality); Dave’s ex-wife has no personality period (she seems ready to go along with Dave’s reconciliation proposals for her kids, but then seems unable to even be around him, and later reveals she hated everything about him); Dave’s dad is a typical father whose eyes cannot hide their dissatisfaction. His contempt for his son doesn’t come with anger or maliciousness. It’s his natural reaction to what he sees as a clear failure. There’s a certain self-centeredness to it. He can’t comprehend how his child could end up this way.

Dave’s father also finds out he has lymphoma and will soon die. It’s a strangely muted revelation. It seems to have little impact on the story and the lives of the people in it. It never, weirdly, adds any urgency to Dave’s quest to make good with his dad.

“The Weather Man” owes a huge debt to “American Beauty” and “About Schmidt.” Somehow “Weather Man” is both more conventional and less conventional than those movies. Unlike “Beauty,” this script doesn’t truly concern itself with the characters outside its midlife-crisis case. You want to get to know Dave’s wife more. You want a deeper look into the wounded pain of his daughter. And you definitely want to know more about Dave’s life with his dad. They’re still involved in each other’s life. So what went wrongr Was his father always this way, or did his coldness develop over the years as Dave continued to go the wrong wayr Their relationship is glaringly cut and dry.

Seemingly trampling his former format-bashing, chaotic punk-rock-yowl attitude, Conrad caves for his finale: he presents a bittersweet, resolutions-met ending he doesn’t, for a second, earn. While Dave is still insane in the end (he wants to clothesline his wife on an ice rink, the crazy bastard), he hasn’t really resolved anything with his family. Not in a meaningful way. The daughter dresses better thanks to her dad. The son is out of harm’s way with the molester. His wife is going to marry her boyfriend and Dave convinces himself that he’s okay with it. And his father passed away. The thing is, the issues with his family are so small and limp — troubled daughter, his wife with someone new, etc. — that the little things he does to correct his life simply don’t feel like any big, dramatic life change. Conrad ends his script with an ironic, flip tone of “hey, life never leaves its middle ground,” but that tone is more one of necessity than anything else.

The ending feels like it was something slapped on to temper the odder elements of the script. You can show this madman, it seems to say, as long as he and his family end up in a better place.

I think I understand why Nicolas Cage and Gore Verbinski committed themselves to this material. I suspect they recognized its faintly, spindly mordant-comedy underpinnings. It will be fun to see Cage play this role. I can’t say I understand the appearance of the fine Hope Davis and Michael Caine here. They have nothing to do here.

All in all, “The Weather Man” is a script I somewhat admire. It doesn’t play to anyone’s expectations and it certainly doesn’t give a goddamn about the way things “should” be. It has a perverse, oddball, eccentric capriciousness that I found refreshing. This was not your typical bidding-war spec. It has something a little different on its mind. If only all the good wasn’t split down the middle with traditionalistic, boring happenings.

Steve Conrad’s “The Weather Man” gets there most of the way. And while that’s hardly the accomplishment one should strive for, the way in which Conrad got there means it’s not a total loss. This is Darwin Mayflower’s first column at FilmJerk.com. Previously, he wrote for
Corona’s Coming Attractions, Test Pattern and Screenwriter’s Voice. Welcome to FJ, Darwin!

This draft, written by Steve Conrad, is dated October 5, 2003.

Rating: B
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