3001 (EdwardHavens)

Its sometimes truculent skewering of the dumbing-down of the world, of which Judge has been partially accused of contributing to with his creations Beavis and Butthead, will no doubt become a comedy classic… if 20th Century Fox allows Judge to make the film as written on the page. So savage and scabrous does this screenplay get at times, this reviewer cannot imagine the powers of be allowing everything in the script to make it to the final cut. Which would be a shame, because what makes the screenplay so uproarious is its brutal honesty about what is happening with the world today.

The film begins with a shot of Earth from space, as an announcer explains that the evolution of man, which so long relied on the process of natural selection to keep the population strong and intelligent, faltered when the smart people stopped breeding. This evolutionary change is shown in a split screen, as one yuppie couple talks about their decision to wait for the right time to have kids, while a white trash couple get hot and heavy on a couch. The right side of the screen splits into four smaller frames, as the white trash couple starts having kids, as the yuppie couple on their left, now slightly older, talk about their prosperity. More little screens pop up on the right, as the white trash couple realizes they can get more from welfare and more food stamps if they have more children. As time moves on, the right side increases exponentially, as the white trash younglings start to grow up and start multiplying like rabbits on their own. The right side becomes so crowded, it starts to push into the left side of the screen, until the yuppie woman, who by the time she is in her fifties is widowed and childless, is forced into oblivion by the ever growing generations of dumb-asses.

With the premise set up, the main story begins. On an army base in Virginia, we are introduced to Private Joe Bowers, an average man who wants nothing more out of life than to finish the last six years of his time in the military so he can collect a nice pension. Against his protests, Joe is volunteered for a top-secret project, the Human Hibernation Project. For years, the armed forces have been training a number of excellent pilots, soldiers and officers, only to see their entire careers wasted during extended times of peace. But before the military sends their best and brightest into deep sleep, they want to test the hibernation chambers on ordinary test subjects. Thus, the most average person in the Army will be the first test subject. Joe Bowers: unmarried, childless and an only child with no living relatives to ask nosy questions if something goes wrong. Unable to find a suitable female soldier, the brass are forced out into the private sector, bringing in a young woman named Rita, who only agrees to join up in exchange for the dropping of some criminal charges and a fee paid to her pimp, Upgrayedd (with two D’s for “a double dose of the pimpin'”).

Naturally, things go wrong. With the head of the project is busted for running a prostitution ring, and the only other people who know about the project dying in a tragic botulism outbreak at a Veteran’s Day celebration, Rita and Joe continue to hibernate unnoticed and unmissed. The passage of time is shown through time-lapse photography, as the base is closed and bulldozed to make room for a planned community. A timeline depicting intelligence is super-imposed in the background, starting at the top in the present day, but dropping steeply as time moves on. The planned community is torn down to make way for a large Fuddrucker’s, which is torn down to make room for a bigger Futtbucker’s, which itself it demolished and replaced with an even larger Buttrucker’s.

Eventually, we dissolve onto a glorious vista at sunrise, rivaling the Swiss Alps or Grand Tetons. Quickly, as the sky gets lighter, we see this is not a beautiful mountain range at all but a disgustingly huge mountains of trash, resulting from centuries of garbage dumping without planning. One garbage dump too many causes a huge avalanche of filth to spew down into the city below. Included in this mess is the life-pod of Joe, which rides the waves of trash until it smashes through the window of an apartment building, activating the pod’s de-freezing mechanics. When Joe comes to, he finds himself face to face with a Neanderthal named Dizz, who is upset that Joe has interrupted his viewing of his favorite television “Ow! My Balls!”

ANGLE ON TV:

The TV show begins: The MAIN CHARACTER, a frail, feeble looking man with a permanently worried look on his face, stands on a high-rise balcony looking out at the view.

A big, lumbering JOCK comes up from behind him, kicks him in the balls, sending him over the balcony.

In rapid succession, the Main Character falls off the balcony, lands on a high voltage wire, on his balls, gets sling-shotted off, starts falling, heading straight for a fence, lands on his balls and falls into someone’s yard. A dog runs up, bites his balls, he scrambles over the high fence, falls down the other side, lands on a sawhorse, right on his balls, then finally falls to the ground. He stands up, brushes himself off, then notices something: a huge wrecking ball swinging right towards his balls. He stands there like a deer caught in the headlights, then WHAM, right in the balls. We follow him through the air, his balls straddling the wrecking ball…

MAIN CHARACTER
Ow! My Balls!

Dizz throws Joe out through the window he came through, and this is when Joe discovers how much things have changed. Every inch of every building, every sidewalk and every street is covered with advertising, as are the clothes people wear. The phone company is run by AOL-Time-Warner-Starbucks-U.S. Government. Everyone has a bar code tattoo on their left wrist, which is used not only for identification purposes but for payments of goods and services. Water has been replaced by Rauncho, The Thirst Mutilator. And the number one movie in America is “Ass,” which is nothing more than a man’s naked backside filling up the movie screen, farting every ten seconds or so.

For Rita, however, things haven’t changed that much. While still in a daze from waking up, she is approached by a horny guy who wants to groove her real good. Catching on quickly to the new world order, which includes local telephone calls costing $2,000, Rita is able to sucker the horny guy to pay for waiting to have sex with her.

After a series of incidents which find Joe guilty of robbing a hospital and escaping from jail, Dizz leads Joe and Rita to a local Wal-Mart the size of several football fields, where Dizz believes there is a time machine that can take the couple back to their own time. Before they can reach the time machine, the authorities catch Joe. But instead of being taken to jail, Joe is to be delivered to the White House, where President Camacho has taken a personal interest in the person who received the highest IQ test of all time, which was administered while Joe was incarcerated. The President wants Joe to become the Secretary of the Interior, to help fix all the major problems of the world. Crops have been dying, people are starving and the planet has been ravaged by dust storms. If Joe can figure out what’s wrong, he will receive a full presidential pardon. Fail, and Joe will be put to death.

There are some minor problems with the script, including questions about how such a stupid society could have such advanced machinery and a wholly superfluous denouement, but Judge and Cohen have crafted an intelligent screenplay which pokes great fun at the dumbing down of our culture. One great throwaway scene involves Joe discovering what passes for the #1 film in America in the future, “A**,” which features nothing more than a man’s naked posterior on screen, passing gas every ten to fifteen seconds. And while most of the examples given thus far do show a certain reminiscing flair towards another Mike Judge creation, “3001” uses toilet humor wisely and effectively, making viewers wonder if this is really want they want. Satire is a hard line to walk, and while some might feel the final product becomes what it wants to mock, most should find this film to be something worth treasuring. This script, dated August 08, 2003, was written by Mike Judge and Etan Cohen. The film is set to begin principal photography in mid-April.

Rating: A-
Share

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+
Share

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
Share

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-
Share

I, Robot

As background, Asimov laid out the three basic laws of robotics in the anthology, which include:

1) Robots must never harm human beings or do anything that would directly harm a human being.
2) Robots must follow instructions from humans, as long as those instructions do not violate the first rule of robotics
3) Robots must protect themselves, provided those actions do not violation the other two rules of robotics

All loom large here.

Taking place somewhere in the near future, Chicago Police Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) lost his left arm when he was rescued from a car wreck by a robot; Ever since then, he’s been resentful of them. His latest case is the murder investigation of Dr. Miles Hogenmiller (renamed Dr. Lanning in the shooting version of the script, this is played James Cromwell), one of the creator of the three laws of robotics. Originally it seemed that he had shot himself, but a hologram of Hogenmiller tells Spooner that this was not the means of his death.

Spooner is helped in his quest to find the true killer by Dr. Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan), the chief psychologist at US Robotics. His first intuituion is that perhaps the culprit robot is still hiding inside Hogenmiller’s lab, made up of a number of dismanteled robots. He soon finds that is he right, after eventually capturing a robot who calls himself Sonny. The robot reveals that he didn’t kill Hogenmiller; he was too scared to help the poor doctor escape his fate. How could that be possibler Could a robot indeed have feelingsr In the end, it’s a race against time for Spooner to discover who actually killed Dr. Hogenmiller and the secret work he was doing before his demise…

I have to admit of being a fan of Hillary Seitz’s work, as her screenplay for “Insomnia” ranks amongst one of my most recent favorites. She does some solid work here, as this script is strong from beginning to end; writing science-fiction isn’t an easy act, especially from a dense body of source material. Gladly, “Robot” does not become too ostentatious (a la the sequels to “The Matrix”) or too dim-witted (“Paycheck”), nor does she dumb down or explain everything we see on the screen. Of course, this simpleness doesn’t endanger the story, with the plot still very accessible. Ditto this for the mystery aspect as well. I like to think I’ve become an expert at predicting thrillers, but this time I didn’t see it coming (As a hint, it’s just a matter of time before people will start heavily comparing this film to “Blade Runner”). In Seitz’s effort, director Alex Proyas has a solid blueprint to make a good movie; greatness will have to wait until we see the visual side of this story this summer.

Smith has been a longtime favorite of mine, I remember watching “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” during my teenage years. We have seen him evolve on the big screen during the past decade, becoming hugely popular with roles in popcorn flicks like “Bad Boys,” “Independence Day” and “Men In Black.” I’ve always believed he could be a GREAT actor. Despite some recent ill-chosen recent choices (the sequels to two of the above films), we have started to see the serious side of Smith’s acting work grow– like in 2001’s “Ali.” Here, the character of Del Spooner is much more intense and well written then the usual Smith-esque blockbuster part. He isn’t cracking one-liners while kicking some alien/drug dealer/evil scientist’s a**. This time it’s a much more mature and serious character for Smith. I like it and he needs to grab more part like this in the future. More than anything, I just hope Goldsman’s rewrite was to sprinkle this screenplay with a few “Big Willy”-type dialogs to feed his core audience and nothing more than that.

The supporting cast has some intriguing characters. Moyahan has been given what looks to be the generic female part, but she isn’t the usual damsel in distress. Bruce Greenwood plays a shady corporate character, for which he should shine as usual. There’s also some good roles for Chi McBride (as the gruffy police boss) and Cromwell (as the murdered scientist). And I’m really curious to see what Sonny looks like. From what I’ve read on the production it sounds like a robotic Gollum. Time will tell.

In recent years, we’ve been blessed with remarkable science fiction films. Thankfully, “I, Robot” is another strong installment in that improved genre. This undated draft of “I, Robot” is written by Hillary Seitz, who is credited with having rewrote Jeff Vintar’s original version of the script. Akiva Goldsman was later hired for additional rewrites to the project. As of this writing, the project is scheduled to be released July 16th.

Rating: A-
Share

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
Share