You’ll Never Die in This Town Again

He boasts a resume that includes many an enjoyable action-adventure film, which has gained him as many detractors as he has fans for the effect it has in cinema. After the flops of “Goodnight” and “The Last Action Hero” at the box office, though, he seemingly faded from view in 1997. But Black now returns with his first solo effort since that time with “You’ll Never Die in This Town Again.” Does it stand up to his previous well-received films, or is he marked for a return back into hidingr

In 1997, Christopher Wehner of Screenwriters Utopia wrote that Black’s critically-panned rewrite effort on “The Last Action Hero” was “nothing more then the result of a desperate writer who has fallen, and [couldn’t] get up. I didn’t want to believe it, but after watching “The Long Kiss Goodnight” when it came out… I am afraid that the dance is over. Shane Black needs to get back to the basics, and what it was that made him a record-breaker— a writer who lived on the edge and as a result wrote a cutting edge screenplay, “Lethal Weapon.” He has lost his edge.”

In reading the script for “Again,” I found myself looking for signs showing whether he has regained that edge he once showed in “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout.” For the most part, Black is back, displaying a deft ear for snappy dialogue. Those looking for the talent he once displayed in past works are going to be happy with this effort, as I feel he has proved Wehner and others critics wrong, all in all. Black shows that he has it in him to make another great action flick, one that would make film buffs anticipate its migration to celluloid. It isn’t his best effort, by far, but “Again” is a film that amiably works. There is some room for improvement; I feel this is a good momentary stopgap for him to regain his mantle.

But one aspect doesn’t quite work here and needs to be improved upon: The ending, which encompasses both the mystery itself and how it all plays out, needs to be revamped quite a bit. I find it hard to envision what is written here working on the big screen, as it may leave a sour taste in audience’s mouths. “Again” wants to be a mystery film for beginners, even clueing in audiences on what to watch out for via a narrator, but the solution to the mystery can easily be unraveled before the final pages—but the perpetrator to the crime gets menial face time before he is unveiled. And if a mystery can be unraveled, in my eyes, it knocks it down a peg or two in its grading, be it remedial or otherwise. Maybe I’ve been reading too much James Ellroy, Dashiell Hammett and Robert Wilson lately, but I would suggest that Black take a further polish to the script here. What is in these pages is satisfactory enough, but it could be brought up to the next level.

SPOILER WARNING!

This script review includes major plot points to “You’ll Never Die in This Town Again.” Read at your own risk.


The Plot
Borrowing a trick from “Weapon” even before the opening credits unfold, the film begins with a woman jumping to her death just after penning a suicide note. “No one will understand what I’m doing tonight,” she writes, while checking a dictionary for the spelling of several words. “That’s okay. My decision however is a rational, cognitive one. I can no longer persevere. It may comfort my father to know that my suicide is due only partially to him.” After a pause, she adds, as an afterthought, “You think I’m stupid, Daddy, but I’m not.”

We then meet our narrator and protagonist at a Hollywood party. “Hi, thanks for coming,” he says. “I guess you’d call this a detective story; there are dull parts, but there’s a murder in it. I’ll be your narrator. My name is Harry Lockhart, and my hobbies include f***ing things up, and reading. Welcome to L.A. Welcome to the party.”

The witty and laid-back Lockhart has an interesting story of how he came into the Hollywood game. It begins in a Manhattan toyshop just before Christmas, where we are magically transported, as he is stealing toys for his daughter. When his accomplice causes the alarm to go off (a loose alligator clip on a re-routed alarm pops free), they flee the scene. After his partner is shot dead, Lockhart hides out in an office building. There they are doing casting auditions for a film and Lockhart finds himself pressed into doing one as well, blowing everyone away with a dramatic reading that mirrors what just happened in his life. He’s brought to Los Angeles, in contention for a big leading role. What he doesn’t know until much later that the only reason he is brought out is to shave a million off Nicholas Cage’s paycheck, who is in negotiations for the role.

At the party, he meets Perry Van Shrike, a film consultant and private detective who is also an openly gay. “Gay Perry,” as he is referenced throughout the film, recruits Lockhart for a surveillance job he is doing. Saying the executive producer for the film wants him to learn the “method” way – apparently, the film Lockhart finds himself in the running for is a detective film – so Lockhart has no choice but to accept the assignment. The verbal sparring between the two is well written, although sometimes overdone. To wit: After asking about the assignment and who is paying them, “Gay Perry” responds that “I’m guessing a sad, lonely little man who single-handedly haunts his own house up in the hills.” After whistling softly, Lockhart replies, “Wow. That’s incredibly gay.” The patter along this vein, while funny at times, does go on a little too much throughout and feels a little contrived in the wake of other films and television shows. And this is coming from a straight man, so I’m left to wonder what the reaction would be from someone of the same persuasion as the fictional Van Shrike.

He also meets at the party the girl he fancied back in high school, Harmony Faith Lane, who has moved out to Los Angeles to become an actress. The two were inseparable throughout their early years, but he doesn’t recognize her at first. Producer Dabney Shaw, the same one who “finds” Lockhart, has invited her to the party. He stops her from getting raped after she passes out in a bedroom, although she later leaves with the guy. After talking with “Gay Perry,” Lockhart tracks Harmony down to her neighborhood pub, where she with a close friend of hers, Marleah. It is there that they recognize each other. After blacking out from drinking too much, he goes home with Marleah, much to his own consternation. After visiting her house to apologize to her, he leaves when she throws him out with his lame excuses, almost losing a finger when she slams the door on him.

The next day begins with Lockhart and Gay Perry staking out a cabin at nearby Arrowhead Lake. Following the man after he leaves the cabin, they soon see a car careen by them off an embankment and into the lake. Both swim out to the sinking car and finding no driver – but a locked trunk – “Gay Perry” shoots his three-bullet Derringer into the lock. Opening the trunk, they find a strangled girl, who also has been shot in the head, courtesy of the Derringer. Lockhart stupidly throws the gun into the pond and they both get out of there, although they discover two faces watching them from the towering embankment.

Then, Harry receives a shocking call from the police: Harmony has apparently been found dead, a suicide. The audience quickly learns that it is not in fact Harmony, but her younger sister Jenna. Out of cash and apparently trying to find her father, she has stolen Harmony’s wallet. Is her death tied into the dead girl Lockhart and Gay Perry found in the trunk of the car in the lake, as the narrator suggestsr

Not believing her sister would take her own life, Harmony hires Lockhart to find out what happened and the detective yarn begins. Why does the dead girl from the lake make reappearance in Lockhart’s bathtubr Does Lockhart eventually lose a digit, courtesy of Harmony’s anger, and does he get to kiss Gay Perryr How does a fictitious detective from a novel and film, Jonny Gossamer, play into all thisr Why are Los Angeles and its denizens so faker And, most importantly, do the three leads patter their way throughout and ultimately solve the mysteriesr

My Thoughts
In his recent review of Black and Anthony Bagarozzi’s spec script “The Nice Guys” (located here), Darwin Mayflower of Screenwriter’s Voice writes that “Black is a maestro when it comes to glib, dyspeptic dialogue and shatter-everything action scenes. There’s two or three action sequences here that leave you breathless. And it’s great old-school stuff, too. The kind of thing you miss. Tough guys using their fists, fighting to the death, everything they do and say a penis-measuring contest — and no one floats on the air or breaks out the kung-fu…Black has more or less been writing the same script since he turned out “Lethal Weapon.” A self-hating hero seeks redemption, usually with the help of a kid and a partner, and a lot of stuff blows up in the process. He’s been able to tweak it just a bit each time. But the repetition can’t help but show its ugly face at this point.”

What is true of “Nice Guys,” which has since been reformatted as the basis for a TV series, is true here as well. Like Mayflower, I would love to see Black move away from this concept he is so enamored with and see what he can do with an altogether new concept of a non-buddy comedy actioner. Viewed in this way, the script for “Again” underwhelms—it’s not a step forward for Black, but him treading water in a genre he once was regarded the pioneer in. But in keeping the writer and his work separate, this could be a good film that nicely captures the Los Angeles mentality and, in addition, spins a good detective yarn.

What also troubles me is that there is also an added pressure here: Black will be directing the film, which has seen no movement since it was announced as being sold in January. This will/would be his first effort behind the camera, although he has also worn the hat of producer and bit actor.

As of this writing, production is stalled at the pre-production phase— No casting has been announced, no location or time of shooting has been locked down and there is no word from the studio on the project moving forward in these areas. Only time will tell if this project, set up at Joel Silver’s production company and Warner Bros. for a possible 2005 release, sees the light of day.

But, should it be made (which I am hoping it will), there needs to be changes to the ending, as addressed above. I don’t buy Lockhart suddenly becoming a sharpshooter and taking out all the bad guys, while hanging from a casket with one arm. “Again” is a good effort, but not Black’s best—which still means it’s better than most out there. This 130-page script was written by Shane Black and dated January 26, 2003.

Rating: B
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