Monday, August 17, 2009

Wichita (Scott Frank)

Genre: Action/Comedy/Romance
Premise: A conservative woman goes on a blind date only to get wrapped up in a game of international espionage.
About: To be directed by James Mangold (Walk The Line), this picture will star Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise. Originally written by Dana Fox, it was then rewritten by Patrick O'Neill, and finally, in this draft (spookily dated Halloween 2007) by one of the best screenwriters in the biz, Scott Frank. It appears Mangold and Shutter Island writer Laeta Kalogridis are doing current revisions, because the script was deemed "too coherent" by the producers (okay, I made that last part up). Speaking of producers, Todd Garner, Kathy Conrad, Steve Pink, and Joe Roth are onboard for Wichita. Because Cruise's career is considered by many to be in a serious state of limbo, Cruise was very careful in choosing his next film, cycling through a number of potential projects. He finally decided on the character of Milner in Wichita (Wichita is more of a code-name than anything. The city never appears in the script. This project is not to be confused with one of my favorite screenplays I read all year, the 2006 ultra violent Black List screenplay "Wichita.") To see if this was a wise move by the man who never stops smiling, read on.
Writer: Scott Frank (109 pages)

Tom likes to have so much "input" (read: takes over) on a project they've nicknamed him "Cruise Control". Will he change his ways for Wichita?

When you're in a script rut, like I've been the last couple of weeks, you start to distrust every script you open. All the scripts you've tagged as interesting begin to look decidedly uninteresting. You think you might have reached that point where you've seen every possible story and are no longer able to be entertained. I heard Sumner Redstone is like that. He's heard so many ideas and seen so many movies, that he's unable to be entertained anymore. Ugh, what a terrifying thought. All of this leads to a general lack of trust when a new script comes your way. Even if a few lines impress you or you hear yourself chuckling, it's always followed by a grumpy under-your-breath, "lucky." But then magically, the funny lines keep coming. The characters are interesting and relate-able. Before you know it you're breaking out the vanilla coke and pepperoni hot pockets and having yourself a party. A script is exciting again! Which is why I'm so happy "Wichita" came around when it did.

June is a company woman plugging away. She's the one who gets to the office before anyone else and has coffee ready for each and every co-worker (ahem - talk about making your character likable). But June is unfortunately under the same deceitful impression the rest of us are, which is that all this work we're doing somehow means something. Of course, it doesn't mean anything. It just means that the company gets to exist tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. But what is it she (we're) actually doing with our lives? After her free-spirit mother goes off on another ridiculously expensive spontaneous vacation, June finally realizes the truth: She's lonely. She isn't very fun. And the only thing all this work has done is prevent her from finding her soul mate. It is through this revelation that she decides to step out of her comfort zone and try the dreaded internet dating.

At first the experiment couldn't be any more of a disaster. She's the pretty woman all dolled up in the middle of the restaurant who's clearly waiting for someone we all know is never going to show up. The reality of the moment hits her like a ton of bricks and her already fragile state leads to her bawling right then and there. It's at this moment we cut outside to see the impeccably dressed and saintly suave Milner, a man who seems to be in quite a hurry, and is constantly looking over his shoulder. Could someone be following him maybe? Milner spots the crying June in the restaurant, gets an idea, slides in and falsely poses as June's blind date. As the deftly mannered Milner jokes with the waiter in another language, June believes that maybe, just maybe, her luck is turning around. But oh how her luck is soooo not turning around.

I can't decide if Diaz is hot or looks like an alien. What do you think?

Whoever's chasing Milner forces him to slip out discreetly, leaving June to absorb a second blow on an already devastating night. She drives home, sobbing about her luck, only to randomly HIT SOMEONE with her car! Oh shit! She gets out to check who it is. It's Milner! He jumps in, tells her to drive, and lets her in on why he had to leave so suddenly. The man he's being chased by, Ackerman, used to be a partner of his. The two have created a battery that will never die. The perfect energy source! Of course, an unlimited energy source means the end of some of the biggest companies in the world - who for obvious reasons aren't too keen on the batteries hitting the market. Which means they'll do anything in their power to kill Milner and destroy his damn battery. Luckily Milner is a secret agent in one of the most secret agencies in the world. In fact it's so secret, nobody's ever heard of it! Needless to say, he's well-equipped to deal with any one or any thing pursuing him. Oh, and there's one more thing about Milner: HE'S FUCKING CRAZY. He's like a new-school clean-cut version of Riggs from Lethal Weapon. Neither we nor June ever know if he's lying or telling the truth! Which means this whole battery thing is probably a big lie. Which leads to the obvious question: Who is Milner and what the hell is he running from?

June wants no part in these shenanigans but that's not an option anymore. Now that she's been spotted with Milner, they'll want to kill her too. They're in this together. Milner will occasionally drug June when she's getting in the way of fighting the bad guys and wake up in the most random places when she comes to: a deserted island or the city of Rome for example. It seems like Milner has a hiding place everywhere. But the bad guys (we actually find out in Wichita that there are bad guys and then there are "worse guys") are never far behind. They occasionally catch June and try to get her to double-cross Milner but Milner's already fifty steps ahead. He knows the game and the people who play in it are always his pawns. But something about June ruffles him. Does he this woman? Because Milner's such an expert liar, even going so far as to lie to himself, we're never sure.

There are so many great moments in Wichita. For example after a big car chase, June is through and demands Milner let her go. He stops the car and actually says 'fine, go ahead.' Then out of nowhere a helicopter appears so he yanks her back inside and calmly offers: "Okay, listen to me very carefully and do exactly what I say. Here, I need you to take this gun and start shooting at the helicopter. Just keep shooting until it falls out of the sky or explodes." Lines like this are why I couldn't stop laughing.

I know I made a point in my Bel Ami review to single out that most dialogue doesn't impress me. I only notice it if it's atrocious or over-the-top. But I definitely need to amend that statement after Wichita. The dialogue here is top-notch from beginning to end. It's funny, it's fresh, it's snappy, it's unexpected. I was so caught up in it, in fact, I didn't even realize it was moving the story forward. Usually it's easy to pick up on when characters are pausing to offer the audience a plot point. Here, it's seamless.

I don't know if it quite reaches impressive status because there's not much depth to the film. But I'll tell you what, it came darn close.

Best way to sum up Wichita? Pure fun. :)

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest

[xx] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: If you can get your hands on this script (and I know someone posted it on my Facebook Page a few days ago - all the more reason to join), please do so. Scott Frank is a master of economy in his writing. He only writes what he has to, and he keeps most of the dialogue uninterrupted, which makes for a quickest of quick reads. I can't stress how much readers love this.