Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Con Men

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A pair of pharmaceutical reps, one crazy, one conservative, travel to a drug expo to try and land the most important deal of the year.
About: This finished on the lower half of the 2009 Black List. Outside of that, little is known about the script. It appears to be Eric Lane's breakthrough screenplay.
Writer: Eric Lane
Details: 116 pages - December 1, 2009 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

Today's script is a comedy so I'm going to take this moment to talk about another "comedy" that I saw last night. After all of this hype, I decided to watch the "Two And A Half Men" season premiere. I'd never watched Two And A Half Men before, so I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but what I got was quite possibly the worst 22 minutes of television I've ever witnessed. I'm not sure if it's possible to die just by watching a TV show, but I'm pretty sure I came close a couple of times. I've never seen anything more juvenile, more stupid, more on the nose, and more insulting than those two and a half men. I'll tell you when I turned it off. That would be when the kid answered a question by farting. I don't have any other words. I'm just baffled that people watch that show and enjoy it.

Anyway, that leads us into today's script. Yay! The good news is, this is way better than Two And A Half Men. Then again, so is soaking your eyeballs in sulfuric acid. But at least Con Men doesn't try and insult your intelligence. Well, actually, that's not true. Maybe I should just get to the review.

Con Men is about 25-year-old Greg Weinstock. Greg is really good at what he does, which is sell prescription drugs, and all things considering, he's got a lot going for him, except for his material girl who lives in a material world girlfriend, Tiff. Tiff’s big beef with Greg is that he's not really a take charge guy. He's too comfortable with his lifestyle.

So when the boss man asks Greg to join up with the company party boy, Kevin, and try to land the biggest deal of the year at the Milwaukee drug expo, his initial reaction is, no way. The reward may be high but so is that damn risk. However, after Tiff dumps him, Greg gets it into his head that if he lands this deal, maybe he can prove to her that he is a risk taker, and she'll end up taking him back.

Like the recently released Cedar Rapids, Greg is all business and Kevin is all party. In fact, as soon as they land, Kevin heads straight to the bar and starts having sex with as many women as possible. A scary prospect if you've ever been to Milwaukee before.

Anyway, they eventually run into the reason that they got this job in the first place - Sheera and Mandy. These two used to be the top pharmaceutical reps at their company until they quit and started working for the competition. Because they are hot and because they will do anything to get the sale, they are every pharmaceutical rep’s nightmare. Our guys basically have no chance against these two. And to make matters worse, Sheera is Kevin's kryptonite - the only girl he's ever truly loved. He basically turns into a drooling half-witted Nerf Herder whenever he's around her, which Sheera uses to her full advantage.

I'd detail more of the plot but that's about it. There's a lot of double-crossing. A lot of sex. A lot of drinking. A lot of lying. Each side tries every trick in the book to land the big fish but only one will come away with the prize.

Con Men is a script from an extremely talented writer who has a huge future ahead of him. I say that mainly because his dialogue is so strong, some of the best I've read in a while. Here's one of Kevin's many meanderings in the script: “A few months ago Lindsay came over. She’s a middle reliever I keep in the bullpen for weeknights. Anyway, we’re changing the batteries in the smoke detectors. One thing leads to another. You lick a nine volt battery and put it against your chode during sex. Turns out, when you climax, fireworks. Buttermilk into thunderbolts, lead into gold. You can literally singe the minge. It’s a K Russell Orig. But yours if you need it. Point is, Lulu dug the spark. Lucha libre.”

I don't know how to put it other than to say his dialogue has a lot of texture. It's interesting and unique and, most importantly, memorable. Which is going to make it all the more confusing pointing out Con Men's biggest weakness: the dialogue.

What? Carson, have you gone mad? Didn't you just tell us the dialogue was great? The content of the dialogue is great but it seems like Eric knows this and as a result goes way too far with it. There is so much needless dialogue here that pages upon pages go by where nothing happens but people talking (about nothing). Every time someone speaks it's a mini monologue. We're consistently getting 10 to 12 line dialogue chunks and it just kills the momentum. There's a reason this script is a needless 120 pages. It's because people talk for too damn long! I don't care how good your dialogue is. You have to show restraint. Everybody loves cake. But nobody wants to eat cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Unfortunately, there are a ton more beginner mistakes in the script. Character actions don't match up with their motivations for example. When we meet Kevin, he's the one dying to go on this sales trip. He's the one who wants this more than anything. So it's beyond strange that the second he lands in Milwaukee, he doesn't spend a single moment trying to land the sale. You could even argue that he could care less about the sale. If a character really wants something then does the complete opposite, you have character problems.

The character flaws are also clumsily executed. When you have a character flaw, the best way to convey it is through action. So if you have a character who’s selfish, you want to show them encountering a situation where they can either help themselves or help someone else. You show them helping themselves and you've conveyed their flaw. The lazy way to do it is to have somebody come up to that person and say, "You know what. You’re selfish,” which is exactly what happens here when Tiff tells Greg exactly what's wrong with him. This is okay if you've already shown the flaw in action. But here, all we've seen from Greg is how awesome he is at his job. It's not like this is Seth Rogan in Knocked Up. Greg has a high-paying job with a great future ahead of him. So his girlfriend telling him that he doesn't have his shit together doesn't make sense.

And outside of that, this story is just all over the place. Once they actually get to Milwaukee, there's no form. There's no structure. It's just a series of repetitive sequences where people get drunk and try to bang each other. Combined with an extremely inconsistent tone, the script never finds itself. I mean, Con Men starts off feeling like a sophisticated comedy. The first 10 scenes convey tasteful and occasionally sophisticated humor. Open the script to the middle however, and you'll read a scene where a character shoots his sperm up into an exposed wire, which starts a fire and turns on the entire hotel sprinkler system. That's Scary Movie 5 territory there and an example of a young writer just trying to make anything funny without thinking how it fits into the bigger picture.

I will say that I loved the inclusion of Sheera and Mandy though. Usually in these scenarios the competition is two men. So to make it two women was a good twist as it created a whole new dynamic between the main players. Now sex could be used as a weapon. An old relationship that still had ripple effects on the characters could be included. It just gave everything a fresh feel. I wish Eric could have brought more of that freshness to the rest of the screenplay. But I still think he has a great future. He just needs to learn how to hone the rest of his craft.

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

What I learned: Less is always more when it comes to dialogue. If you bust out screenplays for your five favorite movies, you'll probably find that the large majority of time each person speaks, they're doing so in 3 lines or less. Not 10 to 12 lines or more, which is the problem with Con Men. Now obviously, each story is unique with unique requirements. Some characters talk more than others. Some stories require more exposition than others. But I promise you that your dialogue will be a lot better if, on the whole, you show restraint.