Genre: Paranoid Thriller
Premise: A man becomes entangled in a secret society that forces him to murder.
About: Finished with 5 votes on the 2009 Black List. Will star Nicholas Cage, Guy Pearce, and January Jones. Shooting right now. Directed by The Bank Job’s Roger Donaldson and produced by Toby Maguire’s production company.
Status of project: Production
Status of this draft: Unknown
Writer: Robert Tannen (Story by Todd Hickey & Robert Tannen)
Details: 106 pages (undated)
Forgive me for not expecting more out of Nicholas Cage these days. Since the guy seems to be having more money problems than all seven degrees of Kevin Bacon, I figure his choices are motivated more by bags of money than his desire for challenging material. Even before our country’s gold stash had deteriorated to a point where even Michael Moore had to make a movie about it, Cage was dangling precipitously on the wrong side of quality. Most of the movies he’s been making seem designed for the 1980s direct to video market. I mean, was Banqkok Dangerous a real film? That was a joke, right? Needless to say, I wasn’t jumping at the idea of reading The Hungry Rabbit Jumps. It was more like a slow crawl, hoping someone would spot me before I made it and pull me back. But this furriest of escapades turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Maybe Cage hasn’t given up afterall.
Our hero, Nick (a little presumptuous weren’t we?), is a teacher at an inner city school. He’s a good guy who occasionally takes his wife, Laura, a violinist in the local symphony, for granted (don’t we all?). This will end up costing him, however, as when Nick skips out on drinks with Laura and her friends, she’s assaulted, raped, and nearly killed on the way to her car. Nick is immediately haunted by his selfishness and is horrified that this monster, whoever he may be, is still out there, roaming the streets.
Later, however, Nick is approached by a mysterious man named Simon. Simon gives Nick a choice. He can wait for this to play out in the creaky inefficient justice system, or he can deal with it here and now. All he has to do is say the word, and the man who raped his wife will be “dealt with.”
Oh, there’s only one catch. There may or may not be a point in the future where these people – whoever they are – will call on Nick to do something for them. Most likely, Nick will never see them again (yeah right) but in case “bad guys” shows up on his caller ID, the implication is, he should answer. Nick is told to take solace in the fact that if he is called upon, the task will be easy (double yeah right). Still fresh off the emotional devastation of his wife’s assault, Nick hears himself saying ‘okay’ and a half an hour later, the man who raped his wife is brutally murdered.
Nick is now the exact opposite of his old self. He’s obsessed with his wife’s safety. He’s around her as much as possible, and when he isn’t, he’s constantly phoning her and making sure she’s okay. But that’s not the only obsessive component to Nick’s life. Nick still remembers what Simon said about needing help one day. As a result, Nick is a 24 hour bucket of nerves. He’s constantly on the lookout, convincing himself that he sees the men that were there that night, the men who may or may not be a part of this vigilante justice organization.
Turns out Nick’s instincts rock. Simon indeed strolls back into his life and reminds Nick of that little favor he owes. And just like he promised, it’s a harmless one. All Nick has to do is kill a man. If he chooses not to? Well, Nick may find himself the unwitting victim of someone else’s “favor” they owed. If it makes you feel any better, Simon points out, the man he’s supposed to kill is a horrible human being. But for some reason that doesn’t brighten Nick’s spirits. As he tries to decide what to do, and hide this secret second life from his increasingly suspicious wife, he slowly unveils the secrets of an organization that takes justice into their own hands.
One of the strengths of Hungry Rabbit Jumps is the predicament it puts its main character in. Never forget that the audience loves to watch your main character make choices. Choices are when we truly learn about a character. The more difficult you make the choice, the more entertaining it is watching them choose. Ideally, you’ll put your character in a position where both choices are “wrong.” For Nick, that moment is when he’s told, “either kill for us or we’ll try and kill you.” Nick can either a) kill a man, get caught and later executed, b) run away, fearing for the rest of his life that the organization will find him, or c) fight back and try to expose these men. Each choice presents its own set of problems and you can’t wait to see which one Nick chooses. The answer to that one choice will tell us more about Nick than 15 scenes of dialogue ever could. Never forget that.
But let’s be honest here. Hungry Rabbit Jumps isn’t the Godfather. It does sort of have that direct-to-video feel to it. The thing is, it’s an exciting direct-to-video feel. The pages turn faster than a flip book and the twists and turns, while occasionally cheesy, satisfy the same dirty side of you that occasionally needs to binge on a bag of barbeque Ruffles or a Sunday Night mini-marathon of Jersey Shore. You definitely feel filthy afterwards, but it’s satisfied filthy, like you’ve gotten away with something you’re not supposed to.
If you want to get nit-picky, Hungry Rabbit definitely provides you with some ammunition. This organization has been operating for years essentially by employing non-killers to kill. Since it’s hard enough to kill someone if you *do* know what you’re doing, throwing clueless suburbanites into the line of fire and having them come away unscathed for countless years isn’t realistic. People are going to get caught. People are going to spill the beans. But the thing about “Hungry Rabbit” is, it establishes a tone that conditions you not to worry about these petty details. It’s a fun surface-level thriller and just like all surface-level thrillers, if you dig too deep, it probably doesn’t add up. Even North By Northwest has some fatal logic holes, right?
Hungry Rabbit Jumps was a nice little diversion and definitely worthy of its five votes on the Black List.
Script link: Hungry Rabbit Jumps (This script is meant for educational purposes only. If you are the writer or copyright holder of this script and would like it taken down, please e-mail me at Carsonreeves1@gmail.com and I will do so immediately)
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I learned that therapy sessions have become a place for writers to cheat. By that I mean, you’re never supposed to have your characters say exactly what they mean. It results in the dreaded feedback that your dialogue is too “on-the-nose”. Why is on-the-nose dialogue considered so terrible? Well A) it’s much more interesting if your character talk around their feelings and b) people rarely say what’s on their mind, so when they do it doesn’t feel realistic. Yet I realized something as Nick and his wife were in couples therapy, working through their reaction to the assault. As they bickered with the therapist, he simply said, “Talk to each other.” And they proceeded to tell each other *exactly* how they felt. They got to speak those “on-the-nose” lines that are considered a dialogue death sentence . And yet it didn’t feel fake or forced because it made sense within the context of the scene. It’s a total cheat, but it’s a great tool for you to use if you need it. (Like any tool though, don’t *overuse* it)