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Deathlok

When they look at your favorite character, they don’t think of cool designs and/or powers— they think of that all-important male 18 to 34-year-old market demographic. That Holy Grail of modern marketing that makes studio executives go weak in the knees. Based on this, it seems odd that a lesser character would be seriously considered for the big screen treatment. After reading the script, the choice seems odder yet. Does it workr

The script jettisons a great deal of the comic book character’s storyline and design. In the comic, Deathlok was Colonel Luther Manning, a soldier badly injured in combat who then volunteered for an experimental program that replaced much of his body with robotic parts. Not quite human any longer, Manning becomes an unwilling pawn to various agencies. Think of the “Six Million Dollar Man” crossed with the original “Terminator.” There were actually four different versions of Deathlok, but this involves time travel and considerable tinkering with character, which I won’t even try to sort out here.

This script is a very loose adaptation of the comic. What remains is Luther’s name, the name of the antagonist, the cyborg aspect and the theme of self-determination. Everything else goes into the trashcan. “Deathlok” purists, assuming there is such a thing, will be disappointed. In fact, apart from the title page, the name Deathlok appears only once in the script, and that is a note from the writer’s acknowledging a moment as being a nod to the comic.

Now here is the shocker: These changes are all for the best. What the screenwriters do really well here is take the core of the character and start from scratch with a new story. Unlike many other superhero adaptations, they don’t rush through the origin story to get to another story in which the superhero slugs it out with a supervillain who has conveniently arrived on the scene. This script is entirely the origin story and a new one at that.

Luther Manning is a corporate trainer, married to a woman with a son from a previous marriage. After he gets a big promotion at work, they go out to celebrate. But the evening ends badly when they are involved in a bad car accident. Luther suffers horrible dreams and wakes in a hospital. He is discharged shortly, but isn’t quite himself. He is having terrible pains, weird lumps form under his skin and his hearing seems to becoming hypersensitive. Frightened, he heads back to the hospital to see the doctor who treated him. The hospital has no idea who this doctor is and has no record of Luther being a patient. Paranoia quickly starts to set in with Luther.

What has happened is that the crash was no accident. A secret government agency deliberately crashed into Luther so that they could use him as a guinea pig in their nanotechnology experiments. The agency has been testing this project on volunteers from the military but wants to know what happens to a normal man. The nanotechnology basically starts to rebuild Luther from the inside out. He now has a computer wired into his brain, liquid metal armor that can appear when needed, greatly improved vision and hearing and the ability to generate weapons pretty much out of thin air.

The man behind this project is called Modok. In the comics, Modok is a major villain, a guy who is basically all head, with a tiny body. He used high-tech toys to let him float around rather than walk. It no doubt saved him from toppling over from the weight all the time. You just can’t be taken seriously as a villain if you’re incessantly falling on your face, of course. In the script, he’s a normal man, brilliant and very much the architect of everything that happens to Luther. At least at the start of the script.

I’m still very much surprised at how I enjoyed this script. The Deathlok character was one that really never interested me much and judging by the fairly short run of the comic book solely focusing on the character, no one else clicked with him either. But by throwing out virtually everything but the basic premise, screenwriters Metzner and Zicherman are able to create an involving story. The key is Luther. They really take their time and develop him as a character. He’s a hardworking guy who wants nothing more than to make his family happy, as far from a soldier as you could imagine. So when this process starts to take over his body, he has no idea what to do. He really has to try and figure out how to work with the computer now sharing his skull to make something of all his new abilities. Then, with the character firmly established, it becomes clear that the process could overwhelm Luther’s mind, turning him into a soulless automaton. Making us care about Luther adds all the needed weight to this predicament, sucking the reader right in. Most superhero movies are uncomfortable stories, trying to mix too many elements while trying not to offend fans and simultaneously attract non-fans, the mainstream audience. “Deathlok” neatly sidesteps all this. because it isn’t a hugely popular character, making wholesale changes to the story is more palatable. There aren’t legions of fans working themselves into a lather over something like organic webshooters.

The script also makes a real attempt to ground this idea in reality. It leans on the emerging technology of nanotechnology to make the story seems somewhat reasonable, but then it imposes limits on Luther. There are limits to resources and energy and Luther has to recognize that. It adds some real intelligence to the action sequences so you don’t feel the need to turn your logic center off. There is a prevalent theme about what the intrusion of machines into our lives is doing to us. Luther is obviously suffering an extreme case of this, but it’s still and a nice area to explore.

My only real complaint with this script is the ending. Its ambiguousness leaves the door wide open for a sequel, yet it ultimately feels tacked on and undermines some of the previous good work. It’s the pat Hollywood ending to send the audiences home with a warm fuzzy feeling. Here, it just feels badly disjointed when compared to the rest of the script.

Paramount hasn’t really been moving on this story and I think the main reason is cost— The script looks to be the recipe for seriously pricey flick. Heavy use of CGI will be necessary, as will numerous expensive set pieces. That factors back into the little known nature of the character. Can a studio in its right mind actually produce a hideously expensive movie based on a little known character in this day and age, the relative success of “Hellboy” notwithstandingr It’s definitely a gamble. But having read the script I’m now willing to say it’s worth it. This could come out of nowhere and be one of the all-time great superhero movies. Or it could continue to gather dust, awaiting the possibility of funds. Time will tell. This undated draft is credited to Raven Metzner and Stuart J. Zicherman (who are also responsible for the coming “Elektra” and “Nosebleed” efforts), based on the Marvels Comics character. Lee Tamahori (“Die Another Day,” “XXX2: State of the Union”) has been linked to the project as director and Marvel has said on its most recent quarterly conference call that they are aiming for – at earliest – a 2006 release date.

Rating: B+
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Garfield

For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, Garfield is a fat, lazy, sarcastic, lasagna-loving cat with a bit of a cruel streak. He lives with a very single and very geeky Jon Arbuckle (to be played by Breckin Meyer). Jon’s only true friend is his cat and so he pampers him excessively, but things change when Jon takes Garfield for a checkup. Jon falls madly in love with the vet Liz (Jennifer Love Hewitt), although she barely notices his existence and tries to unload a stray dog, Odie, on him. Desperate to win her favor, he takes Odie, even though he really doesn’t want a dog.

Garfield is less than thrilled with his new housemate. Even worse, Odie charms the entire neighborhood and completely ignores Garfield’s attempts to push him away. One night Garfield manages to lock Odie out of the house, so the dog wanders the city, eventually being nabbed by a local celebrity looking to add a dog to his act. Garfield is blamed by everyone for Odie’s disappearance and eventually tries to track the dog down himself.

Garfield, a CGI creation in the film, is voiced by Bill Murray, a great vocal talent that makes for an intriguing choice here. Interestingly, there is a sense of coming full circle with this casting, as the voice actor (Lorenzo Music) who did work on the “Garfield” animated series and other cartons also did the voice of Peter Vankman in the “Ghostbusters” animated series. Also lending their voices to the project are Alan Cumming (“X2”) and Jimmy
Kimmel.

On the plus side, the script features all the major characters that inhabit the comic strip. There is Arlene (Debra Messing), Garfield’s love interest; Nermal (David Eigenberg), the dimwitted but overly cute kitten; Luca (Brad Garrett), the angry neighbor dog; and Louis (Nick Cannon) the mouse Garfield never wants to eat.

But my chief concern is that there is no tension to be found here at all, this is run-of-the-mill heavily predictable stuff. I won’t blame the screenwriters (whose credits include being among the co-writers of “Toy Story”) too much for this though, despite the problem of the tepid plot being theirs alone. I lay the blame for the stale jokes at the feet of Jim Davis. I was a big fan of “Garfield” when it was still a new comic strip, back when he barely resembled the character of today. But over time I drifted away from the comic because it had lost its edge. When new it was a fun read because Davis had a way of turning typical cat traits into a distinct personality that made it all seem deliberate and somewhat condescending to people. I suppose if you read the strip now without having read it before, you can still find that to be somewhat of the case. But, for the long time reader, it seemed as if Davis had gone on autopilot, the strip was just the same jokes recycled incessantly. This script is a very faithful adaptation of the comic strip. But that means it picks up all the tired jokes and half-hearted attitude. I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations for this script, but it managed to aim even lower.

It could be that structure of the two mediums makes for an unhappy merger, which is probably the most likely culprit here. The majority of comic strips are basically just quick jokes that don’t tell a running story, using stock characters to try and make for a funny situation. Taking that setup and then trying to expand it to fill 90+ minutes of movie doesn’t seem a good fit. The script doesn’t have great flow but does have a slew of jokes that it tries to jump between as quickly as possible. The bit with rescuing Odie is the only real plot element and it comes fairly late in the game, almost an afterthought.

It’s possible that this script has been rewritten since the draft I looked at. Or, at least I certainly hope so, although it would need to be a pretty major revamp to address most of my concerns. I doubt that happened, though, as filming was underway in March 2003, just three months after this draft was turned in. At this point I have to hope that the talented voice cast can inject some life into this project. It certainly needs the help. Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow are credited with writing this December 2002 script, adapting it from the long running comic strip by Jim Davis. Peter Hewitt (“Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey”) is directing this live action feature (with the title character handled by CGI), which is currently set to open on June 11.

Rating: D
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Stateside

The script follows a young man named Mark Santalamo (renamed Mark Deloach in the final film and played by Jonathon Tucker there). When viewers first meet Mark, he is a high school teacher in a Catholic school and prone to finding trouble. He is often called to task for his overly creative writing. One night he and his friend Danny Tripodi are out drinking. While talking Danny reveals that his younger brother is out on a date, having sex with a girl in their class. They decide to bust up the event for fun, sneaking up on the pair and catching them with their pants down, literally. They then grab the girl Sue (Agnes Bruckner) and shove her into their car and take off. Gregory, the younger brother, follows after them. Engrossed in the chase, Mark wanders over the median lane and hits another car head on. That car contained Father Corso (Concoff in the movie), the principal of their school. Sue and Father Corso are in bad shape following the accident and spend considerable time in the hospital. Father Corso never walks again.

Mark’s father (Joe Mantegna) is furious. Despite this, he puts his wealth into a good lawyer who gets Mark out of a prison term, but the downside is that he has to join the Marines. This he does and the Marines do their level best to beat some good sense into him. His drill instructor (Val Kilmer) makes Mark his personal project and devises countless ways to batter the boy into good behavior. Mark eventually does make it through basic training, granted his first leave before being stationed at Camp Geiger. Mark returns home to see his old friends and immediately seems out of place. The wildness has been beaten out of him.

Back home he runs into Sue, who has been shuttling through psych wards and halfway houses since the accident. She is with her friend Lori (Dori in the movie, played by Rachael Leigh Cook), who is in the same basic situation. Lori has appeared a few times earlier in the script, as a side story. A singer/actress whose “cheese has slipped off the cracker,” she is struggling with schizophrenia and is losing, despite some fame and success. Mark and Lori hit it off immediately and spend as much of his leave together as possible. Her behavior is very strange and a lot of what she says doesn’t make much sense, but Mark is either so smitten or so lonely that he doesn’t care. The remainder of the script concerns the two trying to find a way to make their very inconvenient relationship work.

The movie is set in the mid-80s which means it pre-dates our current heavy penalties for drunk driving, a time when driving drunk wasn’t even really frowned upon much in this country. The script brings that out considerably, with Mark frequently driving around completely soused. Do not be at all surprised if a lot of critics take this movie to task for promoting drunk driving, not that Mark doesn’t pay a heavy penalty for doing it. But he also never seems to learn his lesson, continuing to do it through out the script.

I liked elements of the script, but as a whole found it unsatisfying. It has a very awkward flow that caused me to frequently flip back a page or two to see if I had missed or misread something. It is easy to sympathize with Lori’s condition but making an emotional connection with her is another thing entirely. That problem makes her romance with Mark seem forced and from there, much of the script seems improbable. The ending of the script is a nice little moment but not nearly enough payoff for what preceded it.

This is not the stuff of big box office, and is unlikely to connect in a big way with audiences. The biggest problem here is Lori’s dialogue, as a lot of it is outright nonsense. It’s hard to know what she’s trying to communicate and if it is serious or comical. Mark’s preoccupation with her is somewhat hard to understand. Yes, she’s beautiful and slightly famous but her behavior is so erratic it’s hard to imagine anything longer than a brief infatuation with her. It’s not that she comes off as unpleasant, it’s that she’s simply impossible to connect with. Cook will have to do a lot of heavy lifting to make this role work.

In the end, I hope the finished product is better than what is on the page here. “Stateside” was written by Reverge Anselmo, who also directs the First Look Media effort. This draft is marked as a first draft and dated September 8, 2001. It is set to be released May 21, 2004.

Rating: C
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