A modern day city war is an idea that needs to be done and reading through this review, I have to say this idea sounds pretty fucking awesome. This may be an older script, but they should think about making this. It could be insane. You’d need to rewrite it and tone down the 80s derivative cheesiness – approach it more realistically – but once you did that, hell, call Michael Mann and get this thing done. I agree with Roger here in his “What I learned” section. I never understood putting quotes or anything else before the script unless it was something that was going to be placed in the movie. Anyway, here’s Roger Balfour with the review (p.s. One day left for the Top 105 Logline participants. Get’em in people. Get’em in).
Premise: A Colombian Drug Cartel declares war on Los Angeles when Zack Callahan, a disgraced cop who now works as a forensics technician for the LAPD, singlehandedly discovers the Cartel’s 2.4 billion dollar “Cash Mountain”. Zack reclaims his badge and his gun as he struggles to save Los Angeles from the mercenaries sent to destroy the city and reclaim the money.
About: I would venture to guess this was written in 1989 or 1990. I am not certain. But this is what I do know: Jonathan Lemkin has written for “Hill Street Blues”, “21 Jump Street”, and “Beverly Hills 90210”. He wrote the screenplays for “The Devil’s Advocate”, “Lethal Weapon 4”, and “Red Planet”. He also adapted the Stephen Hunter novel “Point of Impact”, released as the Mark Wahlberg vehicle, “Shooter”. Interestingly, he wrote a modern-day time-travelling werewolf Western called “Howl” that he was going to direct for Warner Brothers. To which Roger asks, what happened to this project and can I read the script, please?
Writer: Jonathan Lemkin
Okay, it might be a screenplay for girls too, but only if you’re the type of gal that loves the 80s zeitgeist flick where a cop, pushed into his red zone, embraces the Dirty Harry inside of him so he can defeat the bad guys.
In other words, this is a screenplay for boys and girls who love “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon”, the films of Sam Peckinpah, and the music of Ennio Morricone.
It’s also a perfect example of how to write a fucking action movie, and I dare say it, it’s what “Live Free or Die Hard” should have been.
Who’s this Zack Callahan cat? Does he measure up to John McClane or Martin Riggs?
For a guy that considers McClane and Riggs as cinematic father figures, I have to be up front and say ‘No, Callahan doesn’t’.
But he comes pretty damn close. He has charm, he’s excellent at what he does, but he lacks that suicidal, Devil-may-cry edge that gives those characters that extra ‘oomph’.
And that’s the only aspect that holds this script back from an [x] impressive rating.
Although he’s extremely well-written, he’s cut from the same cloth as McClane and Riggs. And rather than feeling original or classic, Callahan feels more like a carbon copy.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t care about him or that this script is a “Die Hard” or “Lethal Weapon” copycat. On the contrary, there’s some cool stuff in here with some city-wide destruction that made me think of “2012”. While perhaps not on par with the above mentioned cop films, it’s better than all of their sequels.
What about the villain, Escobar?
Carlos Escobar is a strong villain. To continue this cop movie parlance and be succinct, he’s more memorable, more lethal than all of the villains in those two franchises, with the exception being Hans Gruber. And he doesn’t have to perform naked tai chi to achieve this status, either.
Escobar doesn’t monologue, he kills.
In fact, that’s how this script opens. In Colombia. With Escobar garroting the poor guy who made the mistake of laundering a Cartel’s drug money for his own personal gain. This caught the attention of Rafa, the head of the Cartel and Escobar’s boss.
Rafa tells Escobar, “The entire western distribution is backed up. He could have touched every level. I don’t want to leave any of it. I want you to go to LA. Start with that prick banker Collier. Clean up this mess.”
And Escobar is off to LA, where he kills the prick banker (making it look like a suicide) and follows the money trail, killing everyone that dared to meddle with Rafa’s business.
What’s interesting is that Escobar isn’t the uber-villain or the guy that’s in charge. He’s just the guy that cleans up messes and takes care of business. However, he is a mercenary, a force of nature like Chigurh in “No Country For Old Men”.
The trail of corpses catches the attention of our hero, Zack Callahan, a technician for the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division. This script gets points for creating a CSI character before CSI hit our television sets. He uses his forensics and ballistics know-how to reveal that Collier, the prick banker, didn’t commit suicide.
When Escobar kills four heavyweight crack dealers in South Central LA, Callahan matches bullet fragments he found in the prick banker with the bullets at the South Central LA crackhouse.
And it’s not long before Callahan becomes obsessed with the case, and using some old-fashioned deductive gumshoe work, manhandling, and state-of-the art crime-scene investigation, discovers the location of “Cash Mountain”.
What, pray-tell, is “Cash Mountain”?
“Cash Mountain” is a hidden treasure-trove of U.S. currency. It’s 2.4 billion dollars of laundered drug money stored in the derelict Bob’s House of Carpet building.
When the money is stored in the Federal Reserve Bank of downtown Los Angeles for safekeeping, a federal feeding frenzy ensues as the city, DEA, ATF, Customs and the U.S. government fight amongst themselves to get a piece of the spoils.
Meanwhile, Escobar is about to remind everyone that the money doesn’t belong to them. In an act that is a declaration of war on Los Angeles, Escobar uses a dirty state-side lawyer to recruit the best (and scariest) team of mercs Cartel money can buy.
It’s understood these are all men Escobar has used before, perhaps on an individual basis. Not this time. Now, they’re joining forces to bring a city to its knees.
It’s a helluva act turn that hurls this story from a forensic caper into a destructive, grand-scale Spaghetti Western. When the mercs arrive in town for the money, it’s not unlike The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse coming to reclaim what’s always belonged to them.
They are here for their gold, and they are here to destroy Los Angeles.
Who are our Horsemen?
There’s Paul Balor, a hired killer in his fifties that’s survived this long for a reason. There’s Henri Mercier, a wiry and fit Frenchman. Prakorb Puthong, a looks-can-be-deceiving Thai assassin who is very fond of liquid fire. And the youngest villain of the bunch who represents the new breed of contract killer, J. Boone.
At one point in the script, a C.I.A. dude muses, “A three to five man combat team properly armed, with quality intelligence, could bring this city or any other on this side of the iron curtain, to a complete and total standstill in less than three days.”
And he’s right.
Our villains use everything from grenade launchers, surface-to-air missile batteries, rocket launchers, flame throwers, and generally any weapon you can think of to accomplish their task.
The first thing they do is sabotage the two Converter Stations that supply 80 percent of Los Angeles’ power. Men are reduced to dust in the resulting electrical storms and grass fires and the city is cast into darkness.
Next, they wage guerilla warfare on the LAPD, ultimately infiltrating their comm system. When Zack joins the fray, the resulting battle destroys a city block as bullets, napalm and missiles are exchanged with little respect for human life.
The Mayor is reluctant to show quarter as long as the damage to the city is still in the black. He’s convinced he can use the 2.4 billion dollars to turn L.A. around. He could send every kid in Watts to an Ivy League School. He could pave up all the potholes, get rid of the smog problem.
This is his reasoning: Those electrical plants that were blown up? They only cost forty-two mil, each. Fuck ‘em, he’s not giving up the 2.4 billion dollars. He’s still in the clear! That city block that was destroyed? That block was scheduled for demolition, anyways. These terrorists are saving him money!
He is not going to evacuate the city. After all, “We live in LA because we like catastrophe.”
The battle moves to LAX as Escobar and his team destroy the runways and various buildings with mortars. The National Guard is called in. The mercs attack the interstate system with humvees, razor wire, spikes and belt-fed machineguns.
They demolish a congested freeway overpass with explosives and the resulting helicopter, humvee and surface-to-air missile battle interrupts the seventh game of the World Series when it spills into Dodger Stadium, panicking the fifty-six thousand people there.
It’s pretty fucking fantastic.
How’s the 3rd Act?
It’s the classic end-game ‘Give us back our money or we’re going to blow up all of Los Angeles’ scenario. Carlos and his men take control of the Aurora, a Liquid Natural Gas tanker situated in the LA harbor.
He’s going to use its facilities to create a Blehvey, aka A Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion if his demands are not met.
Zack teams up with his Captain from SID to try and defuse the fancy bomb Escobar has put together:
The mercs are basically using a mainline located in the subway tunnels as a spark, which they will detonate. The subway system will act as a fuse that ultimately leads to the tanker. Blow up the mainline? Blow up the tanker.
Blow up L.A.
The merc deaths are pretty satisfying. Not your usual 80s action mano-a-mano death-matches, but more like Spaghetti Western duels utilizing the dangerous chemicals aboard the tanker.
The final duel between Zack and Escobar is really cool, and it involves a Panzerfaust 3 RPG anti-tank weapon and a flare. It’s good stuff.
Earlier, you mentioned that Zack is a disgraced cop?
Yes. Zack blames himself for a SNAFU that resulted in the deaths of fellow police officers. The manifestation of his guilt was turn in his gun and badge and take up as a technician for the Scientific Investigation Division.
He also became so OCD and withdrawn his wife divorced him.
The emotional core of $$$$$$ is Zack redeeming himself and reconnecting with his ex-wife.
It allows for some character depth, but make no mistake, this script is all about the Good Guy vs. Bad Guys pyrotechnics.
I really enjoyed how this read like a modern day Spaghetti Western, and I think it’s the highlight of this script that separates it from stories like “Lethal Weapon or “Die Hard” and really gives it an air of being its own thing. It feels like a Sam Peckinpah flick, and if he were still around today, I’d love to see this made with him as director. For an 80s actioner, there’s probably no higher compliment.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I Learned: I’m not sure what to think about screenplays that start with a page full of quotes, as usually they seem pretty extraneous to the reading experience. But this quote kinda fucked with my head and it was one of the reasons that I decided to read the script:
“Imagine drug gangsters murdered Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and his predecessor Ed Meese. Also they kill half the Supreme Court, and then say, another couple of hundred lesser judges, the Editor of the New York Times, and the Mayor of Chicago, and assassinate a presidential candidate, who probably would have won, while he was campaigning.
“That’s about the size of things in Colombia. So, blowing up Los Angeles really doesn’t seem that far out of line…”
This quote is attributed to a Time Article entitled, “Going Too Far”, and it really set the tone for what this script was going to be about. It made me want to read the script. So I would say, if you are going to throw caution to the wind and open up your script with a quote, pick something that’s going to do the work of a logline and make the reader want to dive into the story.