Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2 Guns

Genre: Action
Premise: An undercover DEA agent and an undercover Naval officer, both unaware of each other’s status, decide to rob a bank, each for their own reasons, only to simultaneously double-cross each other afterwards, which ironically results in them having to work together to clean up the mess they created .
About: The writer, Blake Masters, is the creator of the TV show “Brotherhood.” He also developed “Law And Order: LA.” “2 Guns” is being adapted from a graphic novel. It will star Mark Wahlberg as one of the “guns,” but there is no word yet on who would play the other. There were rumors that Vince Vaughn might be interested, but I believe that was back when a different director was attached.
Writer: Blake Masters
Details: 117 pages – 9/17/09 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).

Don’t get me wrong about last week. Foxcatcher and Silver Linings Playbook were great. But they dealt with some serious ass subject matter. After topping them off with that abysmal monstrosity of a screenplay about the most boring serial killer in the world, I was on Serious Overload. I needed to take the Tickle Train back to Fun City. I needed some smiles dammit! Evidence gave me some. The Trade murdered them. Was 2 Guns a shot at rebirth?

So we have Bobby and we have Stig. Bobby’s the clever one, the guy who can talk his way out of anything. Stig’s talents lie solely in his shooting ability. He isn’t the kind of guy you want talking to anybody. Bobby clears this up when Stig expresses interest in helping Bobby negotiate a deal: “Stig, you and I are here to do business. Diplomatically. If closing this deal involved shooting the wings off a fly while driving on two wheels through a ring of fire, I’d be the one getting something to eat.” The two hustlers have worked together for months, and are on the cusp of their biggest deal yet – securing hundreds of fake passports from a dude named Papi, who I admit I just imagined as “Tuco” from Breaking Bad. If you don’t know who Tuco is, just imagine the scariest motherfucking Mexican drug lord possible.

The deal goes sour but our guys manage to get away and it actually turns out to be a blessing in disguise because when they’re crossing back into the US, their car gets raided by a very confused DEA team, who was sure they’d find a bunch of fake passports. Afterwards, Stig suspects Bobby may have had something to do with the raid (could Bobby be a DEA agent?), and the two break up.

During that time, we learn that Stig’s not Oliver Honest either, as he’s actually an officer in the Navy. Is anybody telling the truth here? After a series of events too complicated to explain, Bobby gets kicked out of the agency and the only way he can prove his innocence is if he robs a bank. I swear that makes sense within the context of the movie. I think. Actually that’s a lie. I’m not sure it makes sense at all. But anyway, Bobby eventually convinces Stig to team up with him to rob the bank.

Unfortunately, whereas they thought they were robbing 2 million dollars, they find out it’s more like 80 million dollars. Somebody lied about the loot! That’s only the beginning of their problems because when you rob somebody of 80 million dollars, that person tends to wanna find you. And the person in question is a mega-time drug dealer from South of the border who makes Papi (aka “Tuco”) look like a 2-bit homeless man trying to pass oregano off as weed. Now you may be asking, “How did they steal money from ‘someone’ if they were stealing from a bank?” Good question. I’m not clear on that either.

Eventually they learn that all of this money is tied back to the CIA…umm…somehow. Which means they’ll probably be coming after Bobby and Stig too. That means they have the DEA, the Navy, the biggest drug dealer in Mexico, and the CIA all coming after them. Only way to clear this up? Break into the central Naval base and obtain…errr… evidence that they’re innocent. To…umm…prove their innocence? I think?

We sure talk a lot about stuff that’s underplotted – about thin stories.  But it’s rare that we run into a script that’s overplotted – that has TOO much going on. I think all those years on Brotherhood and Law And Order may have convinced Masters that he had to jam a season’s worth of twists and turns into a single film. At one point it seemed like every other page had a twist.

All you have to do is read my synopsis to see it. I was never exactly sure what was going on. And when the reader doesn’t know why a character is doing something (isn’t clear on their MOTIVATION), it’s hard to emotionally invest yourself in that character’s plight. If motivations are unclear, by association so are stakes. It’s hard to grasp the consequence of someone’s actions if you don’t know why they’re doing the action in the first place.

Let me give you a prime example from the script. Once Bobby screwed over Papi, Papi stuffed 100,000 dollars in his bank account to make it look like Bobby was on the take so he’d get fired from the DEA. Bobby was fired, but knew that Papi had 2 million dollars in a local bank. He figured he’d steal that money to prove Papi had it, which would allow the DEA to nail Papi for tax evasion, which would in turn…prove that Bobby wasn’t on the take? Does that make sense to you? Even if it does, it sure is a lot of dots to connect.

That’s how I felt weeding through this one. I had to connect a hell of a lot of dots to keep up. And after awhile, my brain just checked out.

So then why did I still enjoy 2 Guns? Because the two main characters worked. There’s a great opening scene where they’re trying to get these passports from Papi, and Stig is over in the corner watching these henchmen shooting at live chickens who they’ve buried up to their heads. Stig is pissed that they’re hurting these defenseless animals (Characters who stick up for defenseless animals = likable) and lets them know it. Then there’s Bobby, who’s handed a bunch of crap passports by Papi, who then tells him that there’s no way he’s accepting these pieces of shit passports (Characters who stick up to bullies = likable). So we immediately like these two.

Also, there’s this ongoing gag where Stig is always trying to order Bobby pancakes whenever they eat. But Bobby hates pancakes. So Stig will order him pancakes and Bobby will have to run down the waitress and cancel the order. And Stig will ask him, “How can you not like pancakes? Everybody loves pancakes.” Which inflames Bobby even more. And you just get the sense that this relationship is REAL, that these two have a past. Whenever you allude to an issue between characters that’s been going on since before the movie started, it gives the audience the illusion that these two imaginary people have a real history together. Which makes them more real!

So this was a weird read. On the one hand, the plot was impossible to keep up with. On the other, the characters were funny and likable. I could probably go either way, but since I can see this pairing easily working on screen, I’m going to give it a “worth the read.”

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

What I learned: Limit the dots! I’m a big believer in motivation simplicity. The less dots we have to connect, the easier it is to understand why our hero is doing what he’s doing. Now sometimes the genre you’re writing in requires a lot of twists and turns – I get that – but they should never come at the expense of understanding the story. Breaking Bad has tons of twists. But I always know exactly why the hero is doing what he’s doing – he needs money to pay for his cancer treatments (I’m only on Season 2 – not sure if this will change later).