Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime
Premise: When a Brooklyn gun-for-hire is marked for death, he must find the man contracted to kill him first, the utterly elusive Black Phantom.
About: Jamie Foxx and Kevin Hart have wanted to work together forever and this was supposed to be the project that finally did it. The script, which was originally written in 2009, was supposed to be a vehicle for Samuel L. Jackson. Rumors that he shot the film between Avengers’ takes have since been debunked. The project was smartly pitched as a no hold’s barred non-p.c. smashmouth comedy team-up flick. But just like so many projects in town, it got lost in a sea of actor scheduling hell. Something tells me this movie will end up getting made though. It sounds too fun not to.
Writers: Dave Lease & Megan Hinds
Details: 116 pages – April 20, 2009 draft

kevin-hart-ride-along-2

One of the things I talked about in my newsletter was that, when you’re trying to sell specs to Hollywood, you want to write in one of two lanes. The first lane is whatever’s trending. Female-led action thrillers and compelling true stories are two of the most prominent at the moment. The other lane is movies that Hollywood has been buying and making forever.

The comedic two-hander lands squarely in that second lane.

We just saw it these past two weeks with The Hitman’s Bodyguard finishing at the top of the box office. The brilliance of this sub-genre is that the execution doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s more about writing two fun characters who are the last people who’d want to be stuck together.

Now, when you write a comedic two-hander, you have three options. You can team your characters up on the right side of the law (two cops – Rush Hour), you can team your characters up on the wrong side of the law (two criminals – 2 Guns). Or you can team your characters up from both sides of the law (Midnight Run). I suppose there are additional options I’m not thinking of but those are your main three.

Of these three, I think option 1 is the least interesting. It’s just that we’ve seen SO MANY wanna-be Lethal Weapons over the years. Unless you’ve found a fresh way into the cop team-up genre (Netflix’s “Bright”), I’d avoid it. There’s still plenty of originality to be found in the other two categories, though. So it’s smart that Black Phantom went the two criminals route.

And I love the way it’s pitched. As this “No boundaries” let’s throw politically correct out the window setup. We need movies that make fun of our new ultra-sensitive generation. So let’s see if The Black Phantom delivers on that promise!

Benny Bonnema is a pint-sized contract killer who doesn’t like the fact that his partner, a big brute known as “The Russian,” gets all the recognition. Benny considers himself to be the brains of the operation. So why does this big lug have a price-tag on his head five times higher than Benny’s??

Anyway, there are two main crime leaders jockeying for position in the Bronx. There’s the Armenian, Kadakian. And there’s the Italian, Pascalli. Benny and The Russian are hired by Kadakian to kill a group of upstarts who just stole a cocaine shipment from him.

This is a cakewalk for someone like Benny. And he does the job barely breaking a sweat. But then a mysterious man comes out of nowhere and kills The Russian! Benny runs from this psycho, barely getting away. Later, when he queries his contact list, he finds out that the man who tried to kill him, and who will continue to try and kill him, is known as…. The Black Phantom.

Nobody knows who this guy is or where he came from. But Benny realizes that if he’s going to stay alive, he needs to find answers to those questions. Give Benny credit. He’s a smart dude. He’s able to track down The Black Phantom and, after a chat, learn he was hired by Pascalli to kill him.

Since Benny got the drop on Phantom, he gives him a new option. Help him kill the Pascalli crew. Truth be told, Phantom doesn’t have a choice. Benny’s putting Phantom’s wife and kid in a 36 hour chamber that will stop pumping oxygen in if Phantom decides to kill Benny. And so the two team up to take down the Italian mob!

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Man. For a script built on ‘anything goes,’ not enough went.

This is actually a great script for beginners to read in terms of learning how a series of small technical mistakes can kill a script.

Let’s start with The Black Phantom himself. This is the title of the script. This dude is elusive. This dude is a badass. This guy is supposed to be the creme de la creme of contract killers.

Except our hero easily finds him then quickly turns him into a little bitch. Because Benny’s got his family locked up, Black Phantom has to nod his head and do whatever Benny says. You’ve just mitigated your entire concept. The cool mysterious badass main character cannot be cool, mysterious, or badass. That right there was a Game Over mistake.

And there were more where that came from.

When you’re writing a fun light-hearted comedy team-up film, you don’t have one of the guys on the team lock the other’s wife and young kid up in a 36 hour oxygen chamber while they’re on their mission. That kind of takes the wind out of any potential witty banter, don’t you think?

I understand what happened here. You had to find a motivation for Black Phantom to work with Benny. So you locked up his wife and kid. But people, you can’t just throw anything in there to get a plot hole filled up. It has to make sense within the context of the story AND it has to fit inside the genre itself. This is a comedy. Not a Hannibal Lecter prequel.

Also, choices like that make your hero hateable. We’re not going to root for or laugh with a guy who’s suffocating little children.

It was little mistakes too. For example, when Benny tells Black Phantom he wants to kill the Pascalli gang, Black Phantom responds with – “Oh yeah, let’s just go kill the entire Italian mafia.” Benny comes back with: “Italian mafia? Oh man! You watched too much television in Charlotte, Phantom. The Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino, John Gotti days are over, man. Pascalli’s got like eight fucking guys. He’s a glorified crew at best.”

Nooooooo!

When you set up a task for your heroes, you want it to be impossible! You want it to sound like the most impossible task ever. That’s why we watch! Cause we’re wondering, “How are they going to kill the entire Italian mafia??” With this one statement (“They’re just a tiny outfit”), you instantly destroy half the movie’s drama. Jesus. You don’t want to make things EASIER for your heroes. Make them harder! Again, major beginner mistake here.

Look, I like this setup. I can see this trailer. But going off of the script, I can see why this project hasn’t picked up steam. Actors have to read a script and be excited. This doesn’t even obtain a fraction of the fun this premise promised.

For starters, you need to make sure that the Black Phantom is badass all the way through. You can’t have his balls ripped out 45 minutes into the movie. That fix alone makes this script a thousand times better. From there, don’t make weird choices like oxygen chambers keeping family members alive. Just give The Black Phantom an equally big reason to want to kill the Pascallis.

Sheesh.

This project has potential but we need some veteran comedy writers on it that know what they’re doing.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Don’t fill your plot holes with cheap concrete. They’ll just go right back to being plot holes. Every plot hole should be filled with a solution THAT MAKES SENSE and THAT FITS INTO THE GENRE you’re writing in.

  • Wes Mantooth

    First, yay.

    • Citizen M

      Bugger it! Beaten by “a few seconds”.

      Next time I’ll comment before reading the article.

      Nice analysis of elementary mistakes, Carson.

  • Poe_Serling

    After an early week of monsters galore and Happy the Horse,
    I thought Carson might keep the carousel spinning with the
    something-a-tad-different theme.

    Yeah, this project doesn’t seem to fit that bill.

    And I gotta agree – if you have phantom in the title – the
    character needs to be more mysterious and harder to track
    down.

    Though in a way different genre, one of the most enticing
    elements of Apocalypse Now is the whole notion of trying
    to locate Col. Kurtz.

    The anticipation of what the boat crew will find at the end
    of their treacherous journey down the river and into the
    depths of the jungle keeps the viewer riveted to his/her
    seat during most of the running time.

  • Scott Crawford

    Quick think… maybe Benny hacks into the Phantom’s Swiss bank account and steals his “retirement fund.” The Phantom gets it back if he cooperates.

    The other issue, the Phantom becoming Benny’s “bitch” seems to be to do with their not being a mutual benefit to this temporary relationship. In BULLET TO THE HEAD hitman Stallone and the other guy, the cop, team up to find the people who killed Stallone’s partner (and tried to kill him). Cop gets to close the case, Stallone gets revenge… MUTUAL benefit.

    So maybe the Phantom has a score to settle too. Then we can dispense with the whole Swiss bank thing and the oxygen room (though I quite like the DARKNESS of that idea).

    Make the characters three-dimensional and you don’t always have to worry about plot holes.

    • Francis B.

      Maybe the Black Phantom should be the one who puts Benny’s family in the oxygen room.

      Black Phantom needs Benny to help him get rid of Pascalli.

      Now Benny is forced to work with this mysterious and bad-ass character he is afraid of.

  • Tom

    Honestly, the only part of that synopsis that caught my eye was the “comedic hero puts a woman and kid in a timed death chamber” bit.

    I haven’t read the script, so I can’t speak to the execution, but I imagine that particular mid-point twist is the reason this script has ever had any momentum. It’s different. It’s a BOLD choice. Without that oxygen chamber, there is NOTHING in that synopsis that differentiates this script.

    The oxygen chamber changes everything. It tantalizes with the possibility of veering this buddy actioner off in new, unseen directions. It gives an edge to an otherwise stock Kevin Hart character. And it provides the opportunity for dialogue that’s intriguing and flavorful, instead of more Ride Along “I find you annoying” “Well, I find YOU annoying!” back and forth.

    Even turning the Black Phantom into a bitch by the midpoint is, well, at least something new! Otherwise the character, as I understand from the synopsis, is just the Equalizer… or the Mechanic… or the Transporter… or John Wick…

    If you want to break through, your scripts should have at least ONE bold choice. Perhaps it won’t work. Perhaps it’ll be a mess. But if you stick that landing juuuuuuust right, you may have something special. Sometimes it’s worth it to take the risk.

    Carson’s notes might be absolutely correct. But those notes also direct the script toward a safe place. The “Hollywood” direction that so many writers on here rail against.

    I feel that the script Carson seems to be yearning for… well… we’ve seen it. Every studio has 10 of those already. It’s hard to stand out with that script.

    • klmn

      Timed death chamber… That sort of thing was featured in the old Adam West Batman series just about every week.

  • klmn

    A contract killer again?

    Give it a rest, C.

  • Levres de Sang

    Finally read the newsletter. Some good stuff / food for thought. Also thinking that both Ad Astra and today’s script share degrees of writer “miscalculation”. Just shows the built-in difficulty quotient of screenwriting.

    ** Kind of hate to mention it, but thought we might get a shorts contest update. Or maybe Carson reflecting on the “fools gold” luck of contestants was trying to tell us something…?

    • klmn

      If the contest is dead, he should just do an article on the 10 good scripts he found and forget the ones he didn’t get to.

  • Erica

    For the big twist at the end what should happen is the family locked up turns out to NOT be the Black Phantom and is instead a family of someone who was taken out early – an undercover cop that was deep inside the organization that was about to bust it wide open.

  • wlubake

    Possible fixes:

    1. Phantom is hired by the same guy who hired Benny. He kills the Russian and is in relentless pursuit of Benny. Once caught, Benny convinces him that it is only a matter of time before the Italian turns on Phantom. They decide to take him out together, but there is never full trust there. No need to kill a kid.

    2. The joke is still that the Italian gang is only like 8 guys. They go in ready to mow them down, no problem. Only, when they arrive guns blazing, it turns out that the Italian has teamed up with the Armenian, and there are now 5 times as many guys there.

    • ScriptChick

      What if the Italian mob has the Phantom’s wife and kid in the oxygen chamber?