Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Highest Bid

Genre: Action
Premise: An art auctioneer kidnaps criminals and auctions them off to rival crime bosses.
About: Intrepid Pictures, the company behind "The Strangers," purchased The Highest Bid in April for an undisclosed sum. (note: The draft I read is a very early one and I know that extensive rewrites are being done, possibly even addressing some of the issues I bring up).
Writer: Gary Spinelli

Vincent, an art auctioneer and our hero, is withdrawing money from the bank when, by gosh, a team of bank robbers charges in with a fixin for a robbery. While everybody else freaks out, Vincent stays calm. He probes their movements, watches how they communicate, quickly assessing just how dangerous these men are. When the tough one tells him to sit down, Vincent's arms and legs turn into a cuisinart, chopping through the men in a matter of seconds. In case you were wondering, Vincent's a badass.

His day not even close to complete, he hops in his car, starts chasing a truck, leaps into the truck, grabs someone from out of the back, rips off a door, tosses the door onto the road, jumps out - with the guy mind you - and concrete-surfs the door along the road at 75 miles per hour until they come to a stop.

The man he's kidnapped has pissed off enough people in town that there's a bit of a price on his head. So Vincent puts in a call to the guy's (mob) family, as well as a rival mob - in this case The Russians. From the privacy of his office, over a nice bottle of wine, he informs both parties that an auction has begun. Whichever party bids the highest takes the prize home. The winning bid goes to the Russians for 350,000 dollars. Truck Guy's sleeping with the fishes. Or whatever it is the Russian Mob does to people. Yes indeed, Vincent leads a strange life.

The great thing about The Highest Bid is the high stakes game Vincent plays with all the families. The last people you want to piss off is organized crime. It's like walking up to Tony Soprano and giving him the finger. In auctioning off the lives of these crime members for the past year, he's managed to piss off The Italians, The Chinese, The Russians, The Koreans, pretty much anybody who owns a gun. Which means all it takes is one slip-up, one person to discover his true identity, and ten of the deadliest gangs in the city will do everything in their power to introduce him to the local sea life.

When Vincent kidnaps a beautiful European woman named Sophie, who belongs to the West Coast underworld leader, Lo Fang, he may have finally bitten off more than he can chew. Get it? Chew? Fang? Never mind. Anyway, Lo Fang is bad. He's so bad that he kills his bodygaurd for not answering a question correctly. And you know when these crime leaders kill their own bodyguards? .............. That means they're bad. A little aside here. If you're a crime lord, why would you shoot your own bodyguard? Isn't trust a huge issue in this business? Do you know how long the round of interviews is going to take to get another guard you can actually trust? Lo Fang dude. Use your brain.

Anyway, this is one auction that won't yield a high bid. Lo Fang wants Sophie back, and he'll do anything to get her. Including alerting all the other mob bosses to Vincent's true identity. Vincent then finds himself engaging in a series of increasingly elaborate action sequences, trying to escape the deadly Fang and all the other mob bosses, all the while wondering, "Man, can I even trust this Sophie bitch?"

And that's why the script didn't work for me. You have yourself a very cool premise. You use it in the opening 15 pages. Then it disappears quicker than Jimmy Hoffa, replaced by big generic XXX action scenes, which begs the question, why have the hook in the first place? If you're just going to turn this into a B movie, why waste the slick hook? Why include lines like this one?

Where do you two come from?

Think of Hell. Then think of a place worse than that.

You know you're watching an action movie when one of the characters is named "Solon League". Anyway, I've made my point. The Highest Bid missed a great opportunity to explore a cool premise and decided instead to turn it into the next Steven Seagal film (not that there's anything wrong with that - just sayin). Had they prepared me for this, I might have reacted differently. But I was hoping for something that made me think a little more, ya know?

Script link: The Highest Bid

[ ] trash
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: This seems like a rather obvious lesson but don't abandon the hook of your movie. It's your hook. Take advantage of it. Milk every last drop from it. At the same time, this is a good reminder of how important a great hook can be. While you'll never sell a piece of shit with a great hook, producers will definitely overlook some problems in your screenplay if you have one.