Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Ticking Man

Don’t forget to check in Sunday, where I’ll be doing some live but potentially unentertaining Oscar blogging. Opinions will be made. Anger will be expressed. And absolutely no good will come of it. I say if we can get through the broadcast without Steve Martin getting another facelift, we can call the Oscars a success!

Genre: Action/Sci-fi
Premise: A bomb expert must prevent the human nuclear bomb he created from getting into and destroying Moscow.
About: The Ticking Man sold for 1.2 million dollars back in 1990 (2 million dollars today). Although never made, it was famous for the creative way in which the script was marketed. Each script was sent out with a ticking alarm clock attached. The story (of how it was sold) gained so much traction, that for awhile, creative attempts at getting scripts read was all the rage in Hollywood. The result? A lot of exciting script deliveries. A lot of bad scripts. -- One half of The Ticking Man’s writing team is screenwriting superstar Brian Helgeland. Since this spec, he’s written L.A. Confidential (for which he won an Oscar), Mystic River, Man on Fire, and most recently, Green Zone, starring Matt Damon. Manny Coto, the other writer, is probably best known for the show 24, where he’s worked as both a writer and Executive Producer (surely, the ticking time bomb angle helped him get that job). Bruce Willis was tapped to star as Hockett, the lead in the film. Of course, Bruce Willis was tapped to star in every action movie between 1990-1996.
Writers: Manny Coto & Brian Helgeland
Details: 126 pages


Hurt Locker? Who needs The Hurt Locker! Fuck realism. You know, I have to say, I enjoyed Hurt Locker. I thought it was a good movie. But it’s scary the way these studios hype their movies leading up to the Oscars. In order to keep them in the spotlight, they actually have to promote the film as the single greatest film ever made. And hearing over and over again just how great Hurt Locker is only makes me cringe and scrutinize the movie even more. It was a pretty good movie but great!? Let's jump down from the crazy train shall we?

The Ticking Man introduces another rebellious bomb defuser altogether – anger-management candidate Lloyd Hockett. Hockett, who blew up his teacher’s car with a homemade bomb after losing the school science contest AT AGE 9, has become LAPD’s number 1 bomb expert. Hockett not only defuses time bombs, he’s an explosion waiting to happen himself. Cursed with a hot head (he blew up his science teacher's car! At age NINE!), you could say that he has a tougher time managing his temper than managing bombs.

What Hockett’s most pissed off about though, is that they don’t let him go in and defuse these bombs anymore. They use those stupid Short Circuit robots with cute names like F.R.E.D. But when FRED is unable to detect that a child is still in the building of a local school they’re supposed to be securing, it’s Hockett to the rescue, running in, saving the boy and defusing the bomb just before it turns them into a bowl of sashimi.

Strong-minded reporter Meg, a whipping girl for a local newspaper, is assigned to do a story on this bomb defusing stuff, and gets a whiff of the boy-saving cover-up job the LAPD is trying to pull at the school. So she searches out Hockett, asking for the truth and nothing but the truth, only to be told, in so many ways, to fuck off.

Brian Helgeland

Meanwhile, at a military base in Nevada, we meet The Ticking Man, a human-looking robot who’s capable of carrying a 20 kiloton nuclear payload in his chest cavity. For reasons unknown, The Ticking Man decides he doesn’t want to be stored on a shelf anymore, and pulls an Andy Dufrane, busting through the wall and marching off into the desert .

Hockett is then kidnapped by the military because, surprise surprise, Hockett BUILT The Ticking Man. Since he’s the only one who can understand why the Ticking Man would want to leave, they need his help to stop him. But they better hurry up, because the fancy schmancy computer programs at the lair are saying that the Ticking Man is following an outdated mission to walk into the middle of Moscow and blow up the entire city! On a more selfish note, I wouldn’t mind an updating of some of the architecture there. Not a big fan of the Kremlin building. Just an observation.

Because they’re not letting Hockett physically chase The Ticking Man, he escapes the military so he can go searching for him himself. Unfortunately, the extremely annoying Meg joins him, still pressing him for that stupid interview about the school bomb. But soon she realizes there’s a much more pressing issue at hand, and that she may be sitting on the story of the century. The two run, skip, and jump after the Ticking Man as he scurries across the country, avoiding the military and delving deeper into Hockett’s anger issues. Will the Ticking Man evaporate Moscow? Will Meg get her story? Will Hockett get really really mad at people who don't deserve it? You'll have to read The Ticking Man yourself to find out.

Willis to play the every movie ever!

The Ticking Man lands its long hand somewhere between fun and ridiculous. It wears its 90s’ness on its sleeve, and while it coaxes some nostalgia out of you, it just as often coaxes you to check for the fourth time that hour. This 90s vibe can be seen loud and proud in The Ticking Man's not so subtle attempt to create another type of Terminator franchise. The Ticking Man is essentially a slightly-more confused terminator, and you can imagine a new robotic-type actor – someone who you'd normally never want in your movie – fitting into the role and turning himself into the next Schwarzenegger or Keanu Reeves.

What sucks is that the script is so predictable. And I have my suspicions as to why. I remember at that time, the only book out there about screenwriting was Syd Field’s “Screenplay.” So pretty much any new screenwriter in the business was following that book to a tee. The Ticking Man, I believe, is a victim of this unfortunate reality. Acts break exactly when you expect them to. Twists come right on schedule. Not a single change or deviation from the universally accepted 3-Act structure was taken. And that's too bad. Cause there were some cool places this could've gone. So as Randy would say, 5 times in the same show, "I don't know dog. I just wasn't feeling it. I don't know, I don't know. What do you think E?"

But before I leave, there’s one quick thing I wanna get off my chest. Am I the only one who thinks these “gotta get the story for the paper at all costs” female sub-plots are worthless? I always feel like, “Who gives a shit if they get the story or not?” Yet this is one of the most common sub-plots in all of film. Am I alone on this? Do I have brothers and sisters represent'n?

In the end, The Ticking Man = A fun premise, but a little too much cheese in the dish. :)

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

What I learned: Can a gimmick help you sell your script? What I’m about to say may surprise you, but I actually think that, yes, it can. There are so many distractions in today’s world, you gotta do something to stand out, to get noticed. Creatively packaging or selling your script may get you noticed in ways traditional routes would not. And it's been so long since it was done, it may just seem fresh and new. Just make sure that the script lives up to your packaging. Cause I don’t care if you deliver me your script from a helicopter. If it’s unbearable by page 3, I ain’t gonna keep reading.