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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