I will be awarding a script of the month every month. I know you guys don’t have nearly as much time as I do. So I’ll single out my favorite script of the previous 30 days and give it my stamp of approval. Because 500 Days of Summer and Source Code don’t count (I originally reviewed those on another site) this month I’m giving the award to “Extract,” Mike Judge’s severed balls comedy. It narrowly beats out Bumped, She’s Out Of My League, and The Sitter. Whereas all three of those scripts ended stronger, the first half of Judge’s story is so funny, it ultimately steals the prize. For anyone trying to create better comedic characters, use Mike Judge’s scripts as your bible. Nobody creates more vivid more hilarious people than this master of comedy.

Sadly, nobody was good enough to break into the Top 10. Maybe in March. :)

Genre: Thriller
Synopsis: A man’s fiance is kidnapped into the depths of New York’s subway tunnels.
About: Recently sold spec
Writer: Jeremy W. Soule

It’s time for a weekend kidnapping sandwich! Today I’ll be reviewing the recently sold “Gone” (at least I think it sold), and then Monday the recently sold “Layover.” And no, “Layover” is not a sequel to “Bumped.” And Gone is not prequel to “Taken.” Although in the strange world of Hollywood, I’m sure they’re all related.

Oh boy…where do I start with this one?

Gone is not as bad as it tries to be. In a script with mole people, deaf-mutes, underground cities, and fabled 1900’s abandoned tunnels, there was potential for this to be really shitty. But Gone redeems itself with a couple of late second-act twists and a reasonably satisfying ending. But boy, did it look like it was going to stumble before it got there.

A big deal is made of Andrew, 20s, being claustrophobic early in the film, and yet this has little to no effect on the storyline. That sums up “Gone.” Lots of declarations. Not a lot of following through. Andrew is engaged to the beautiful Becky, whose father just happens to be the president of American Motors (aka loaded).

Andrew and Becky hop on the subway when, a few minutes into the ride, the train makes a sudden unorthodox stop. Everyone’s told to evacuate. They walk down the tunnel to the next exit and as they’re almost evacuated to safety, Andrew turns around only to find that Becky is GONE (I’m thinking this is the inspiration for the title).

Andrew frantically searches for her. Nobody seems keen on helping him. This is one of the underlying themes I really liked about Gone. This idea that we live in a world where nobody cares about anybody anymore. I thought that was really well done, and it’s something I believe is a growing problem in the world. When I hear someone scream at 11pm at night, I don’t bat an eye. I’m just so used to crazy background city noise. Soule captures that here. Anyway, a cop reluctantly decides to help him, and their search takes them down into the depths of the subway system, until they’re in an underground world all its own. They run into crackheads, deaf-mute graffiti artists, even mayors of underground communities.

Gone’s problem is that, at its core, it’s just silly. It’s a silly idea. A silly concept. A silly execution. This guy goes down into a subway underworld to find his fiance, and starts meeting all these goofy characters. There’s no genuine fear. There’s an underground world that compares itself to Oz for God’s sakes. It’s all so strange that the immediacy of finding and rescuing his fiance feels secondary. That’s not to say the characters weren’t interesting. They were. I would even say they deserve to be in a movie – just not this one.

Gone also falls headfirst into some of the traps of the genre. Like when the killer/kidnapper is revealed (spoiler ——–it’s the cop) and gives the order to kill Andrew, you immediately wonder why he didn’t kill Andrew one of the 1800 other chances he had to kill him- specifically when they were alone in a tunnel that nobody’s been in for 90 years (and probably won’t be for another 90 – don’t know about you but if I were going to kill someone, I’d think that would be a pretty safe place to do it). The writer tries to talk his way out of it (at least he addresses it) by hiring M. Night’s character from The Village to play the part of Edgar The Explainer, but it’s kind of like the liar getting caught, then trying to explain why he’s not lying. It only makes it worse. This is sloppy stuff and shouldn’t be allowed in a screenplay that’s selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But like I said, there were a few twists that I didn’t see coming and everything wrapped up a little nicer than I expected. I can see why a lot of people are hating this script. It needs work. But I can also see why it sold. The unique universe of the abandoned New York subway tunnels has been a ripe environment for a film for a long time. I’ve always wondered why studios hadn’t made a film about it . Maybe we’ll finally see one with “Gone.”

[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned from Gone: The value of a good twist is incredibly important in movies like these. You have to jolt your audience, let them know that they may *think* they know where the movie’s going, but they don’t have a clue. Stay on a predictable track for too long, and the reader/audience is going to lose interest.

Genre: Drama
Synopsis: A group of individuals battle with what happens in the afterlife.
About: This is the Clint Eastwood/Steven Spielberg project.
Writer: Peter Morgan

Hmm, what do you say about Hereafter? I heard there was a “supernatural” element to the script, and that’s what intrigued me, but the truth is the supernatural plays a very tiny role in this story about death.

Hereafter starts off with a splash. Literally. Marie, 30s, a news personality, is in Thailand with her producer boyfriend. She goes down to the market because the boyfriend is too lazy to get birthday presents for his kids. While she’s looking at some jewelry, the infamous 2004 Tsunami hits. She drowns, and is technically dead for a few minutes, but is resuscitated by a group of rescuers. During death she saw something. A beautiful vibrant garden. A place that was undeniably special. The experience changes the way she sees everything.

We also meet George, an ex-psychic who’s trying to leave that life behind (he considers his “gift” a “curse”). And Marcus, a 12 year old boy who loses his twin brother in a violent car accident. George is sick of communicating with the dead because it prevents him from having a normal life. And Marcus, who never got to say goodbye to his brother, wants some sort of closure in the matter.

These three souls are very lost, each looking for a way to explain their experiences yet having no one that understands what they’re going through. They all feel very alone in the world.

I would say I enjoyed Hereafter…with reservations. The script has some major issues going on. First and foremost, it’s 60 pages of screenplay stretched out to 110. The story moves very very slowly. While the characters are compelling enough to warrant this glacier-esque momentum, it certainly doesn’t do the script any favors. The story sets up like it’s going to tackle the issue of the afterlife, but never does. I’m sure they could argue that it’s trying to mirror life (that there are no easy answers), but give me a break. This is a fucking movie. Give us some answers or give us a story. You can’t skirt around the issue for 110 pages without making the audience feel cheated.

In the end, the three main characters converge rather clumsily, and George reluctantly gives Marcus the closure he’s been looking for. But what about my closure? What about the feeling that I got something out of this? Apparently, this was ignored.

What bothered me was that this story really has the potential to be something. Psychics and near-death experiences and twins losing their brothers. There’s an awesome movie in there somewhere. I’m thinking Spielberg and Eastwood will tackle some of these issues in the rewrites. But if you ask me, I say cram everything into 60 pages, and write a whole new second half. No dilly-dallying. You tell us aspiring writers to do it. Shouldn’t be any different when you assign someone to write your idea.

[ ] trash
[x] barely readable
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned from Hereafter: Speed your damn story up. You don’t need nearly as much time to say something as you think you do.

Genre: Comedy
Synopsis: A group of friends decide to go on an adventure to stifle a quarter-life crisis.
About: This is that million dollar spec that sold with Superbad star Jonah Hill as one of the writers. Not sure if he’s attached to star (though I assume he is) and whether that had any influence in the script getting sold. Very skeptical of this one at first, but then I saw that Matt Spicer and Max Winkler were the other two writers. They wrote one of my favorite scripts of last year, “The Ornate Anatomy Of Living Things” about a man who finds out there’s a museum dedicated to his life. Winkler is the son of Henry Winkler – yes, The Fonz.
Writers: Jonah Hill & Matt Spicer & Max Winkler

Joe is unhappily engaged to a woman so ready to get married she trumps those freakshows on The Bachelor. All Neil cares about is getting high and fucking ugly women. Harry’s dad barely knows he exists. The three are stuck in that strange 20-something malaise where they’re not sure if they should hang onto the past or leap into the future. When Joe finds The Adventurer’s Handbook at a local yard sale, however, he’s convinced that the three friends need to go on an adventure of their own in order to become men.

Because the group doesn’t have any money to fund the adventure, they’re forced to approach their old elementary school “friend” Sadoff (if friend means they hate him more than life itself). Sadoff’s since become a Josh Groban like superstar (extremely cheesy music – think the vocal equivalent of Kenny G). Instead of just loaning them the money, however, he insists on coming along.

The four land in Cairo and meet Frank, an adventerous looking man who tells them he can get them on a plane to Pakistan. Frank has a few secrets, namely that he’s carrying some sort of “package” that a whole shitload of bad guys want. When they’re not looking, Frank stashes the package in Joe’s bag. He’s then killed just as the boys leave, which means whoever was chasing Frank is now chasing them. Their plane crashes in the deserts of Afghanistan and the group stumbles their way into a small vilalge.

Later the boys get captured by, I believe, that British guy on The Celebrity Apprentice. He takes them to some Burmes jail in the middle of the jungle. They blast their way out rambo style, escaping in a tugboat down the river, finding yet another village and…blah blahblah blahblah blah blah blah. Ahhhhhhh! I can’t take it anymore. The Adventurer’s Handbook is fucking awful. It’s soooooooooooo repetitive. This has to be one of the slowest comedies I’ve ever read. An awful awful script.

I say this without hesitation. I cannot believe for the life of me that this sold. And I am fucking beyond shocked that it sold for so much money. I feel bad for saying this but somebody out there is very very very stupid. This script is average at best and a disaster at worst. I don’t even think the premise is that great. I thought this was going to be about a book that gave them a specific adventure to go on. Finding treasure. Finding a sunken ship. Finding something, ANYTHING. Instead it stands in for a vague excuse to travel around the Middle East and get into “funny” situations (for the record, although I smiled a few times, I never laughed). The Handbook that is the catalyst of the movie has nothing to do with the movie at all!

I think one of the biggest disappointments with the script is that the sense of wonder and originaltity that was so present in “Living Things” is gone here. I’d go as far to say that there wasn’t a single original moment in the entire screenplay. Even the “twist” ending you could see coming from a mile away.

If there’s any good news here, it’s that, with a little traction from a previous script, you can sell trash. And for a lot of money at that.

[ ] trash
[x] barely readable
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned from The Adventurer’s Handbook: I honestly don’t know what I learned here. The story doesn’t get going for 40 pages. The script itself is 128 pages. I guess if there’s anything to learn it’s that all those “rules” you’re supposed to follow to sell a spec script can be completely ignored. Particularly the one about making sure the script is good.

Genre: Comedy
Synopsis: A college kid is forced to babysit a very strange family for an evening.
About: Big spec script that sold a few weeks ago.
Writers: Brian Gatewood & Allesandro Tanaka

Noah, 21, is a loser. He’s a fuck-up. He does not have it going on. He’s been suspended from college, is flat broke, lives with his mother, and has a girlfriend who refuses to list her Facebook status as “In a relationship.” So when a party that his mother’s been looking forward to all week has been canceled due to her friends not being able to find anyone to take care of their children, Noah is forced to do the unthinkable: Be a 21 year old babysitter.

He huffs and he puffs but ultimately gives in. Once he gets there he realizes this family isn’t just weird, they’re batshit crazy. Blithe is an 8 year-old whore obsessed with celebrity (particularly Kim Kardashian’s sex tape). Rodrigo is an extremely weird slightly retarded recent adoptee from Ecuador who likes to walk around lighting sparklers, and Slater is a 13 year-old stud with a laundry list of prescription medications for his multiple anxiety disorders.

About 5 minutes into the night, Noah gets a call from Marisa (his “girlfriend” – cough cough), asking if he’ll come meet her at a party (only an hour ago she told him she couldn’t hang out because she was sick). He tells her he has to babysit but it falls on deaf ears. She needs coke and asks if he wouldn’t mind dropping by her dealer’s place on the way over. Or, err, her “old dealer” she means. Cause Marisa doesn’t do coke anymore. It’s for her friend Tiffany. Noah, blinded by the fact that he’s being used, grabs the kids, jumps in their parents’ Bentley, and the adventure begins.

Along the way Noah accidentally destroys 10,000 dollars worth of coke. The drug dealers threaten his life if they don’t get their money back. This forces Noah to crash one of Slater’s friend’s bat mitfah’s, where they steal money envelopes from the “gift pile.” The Bentley gets stolen, forcing him to confront a father he no longer has a relationship with. He steals his father’s keys and robs his jewelry store. He himself gets robbed by a pair of shady cops. All just to get to this damn party to see a girl that he refuses to accept doesn’t even like him.

Although it’s a silly movie about a crazy night out, the script tackles some bigger issues, specifically the destruction of the American family. Fathers move on to start new families. Mothers are stuck trying to find new husbands. Husbands are cheating on their wives, unaware of what it does to their children. Wives who know of the cheating but refuse to accept it, try to make up for the loss by “saving” children through adoption. It’s all pretty heady stuff. And all too familiar.

I got to give it to these guys. Any writers unafraid of putting an 8 year-old whore in their script deserve some credit. Surprisingly enough, even with how broad these characters are painted, they really come to life in the end. Blithe learns that the reason she cakes her face in make-up and wears slutty outfits is because she spotted her father making out with his secretary. Slater’s anxiety stems from the fact that he’s in the closet. And Rodrigo just wants to feel like he’s part of a family.

This is the best script I’ve read in awhile and I highly recommend it.

[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned from The Sitter: Flip characters around to come up with something unique. Slater isn’t the nerdy kid with asthma problems. He’s the good-looking kid with anxiety problems. Blithe isn’t the perfect 8 year old cute girl, she’s an 8 year old whore.