Wednesday, March 3, 2010

21 Shots

Genre: Comedy
Premise: A straight-laced college student must find his wallet on his 21st birthday or potentially lose his post-graduation dream job.
About: Sonny Lee and Patrick Walsh, writers on the show “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” sold this comedy spec last week to Paramount. This is their first spec script working together. Interestingly, the duo sold the script only a week after they left CAA for ICM. Also, the idea was thought up and is being produced by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who, of course, wrote Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle.
Writer: Sonny Lee and Patrick Walsh (based on a story idea by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg)
Details: February 16, 2010

Ever wonder how the night in The Hangover actually played out? I’m not talking about the brief glimpses we got through pictures, abandoned babies, and lost teeth. But each insanely crazy detail? 21 Shots is that film. And really, it’s a film chronicling that “legendary” night in college we all had. The one we’ll still be recalling 30 years from now. For me it was Tri-Dorms Destruction Night. Unfortunately I can’t tell that story in a public forum due to fact that I’d probably go to jail for a decade. So I’ll just stick to telling Michael West’s story.

The aforementioned Michael is a lot like Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise’s character from Risky Business). His overprotective parents have carefully planned out his life so that fresh out of college he’ll have that perfect high-paying job that all parents dream of for their kids. For that reason, Michael’s one of those rare college specimens who actually gives a shit about his grades. While his buddies could spend an entire day looking for the perfect sheet for that weekend's toga party, Michael would rather studying for tomorrow's unlikely but wholly possible pop quiz. In fact everything Michael's done up to this point in life has been in preparation for tomorrow's dream job interview.

The only problem is that the interview’s landed on the morning after his 21st birthday. And while Michael may have mastered the art of slipping out before the drinks are poured, not even he can escape the clutches of his 21st birthday party. Particularly because his friends, Ian (obsessed with blowjobs) Jessica (obsessed with her asshole boyfriend), and Shane (crazy ex-military weirdo) plan to take him out for the night of his life.

However, just as the wonderful evening begins, the group is mugged, and Michael’s wallet is stolen. If Michael doesn’t have his ID, he can’t get into the club where he’s supposed to schmooze his future employers. If he doesn’t schmooze them, he won’t land the job. And if he doesn’t land the job, everything he’s worked so hard for will be for naught. In other words, Michael must find that wallet!

21 Shots follows a pretty standard formula. Stick your characters in a bunch of fucked up situations and see what pops out. In Michael's case, he and his friends must maneuver their way through a Training Day like house party, a strip club where Jessica must perform (but is unfortunately wearing her unflattering “period” underwear), dodge a crazy Chechnyan who likes to suck his own dick, and avoid a bizarre homeless man who likes to hump people’s legs (his name, in case you were wondering, is “Humpy The Bum”).

21 Shots is what it is – a comedy geared towards the youngsters. But whereas The Hangover treated its debauchery with a certain amount of class (if that’s possible) 21 Shots has no limits. Ball sacks hang over webcams. Guys suck their own penises. There’s a character whose name is Date Rape (no really, that’s his name). And, of course, let’s not forget Humpy The Bum.

But what surprised me about 21 Shots was that Lee and Walsh were actually trying to say something. And I think this is where you see the difference between an amateur script and a professional one. At its core, 21 shots explores that terrifying transition period when you realize you’re leaving the safe confines of institutional life. Your identity as a student is over. You're now expected to become an active contributor to society. That’s a terrifying proposition for a 21 year old, particularly because you’ve spent most of your life being told what to do. If you’ve lived your whole life being told what to do, how do you know that what you've chosen is what you *want* to do?

So that part I liked about 21 Shots. As for the rest, it’s really a mixed bag. The script labors extensively to set up its premise. So much so that I lost track of where we were and why we were there several times. Michael has to find his ID to get into the club where his future employers are so he can schmooze them before tomorrow's interview. But while we're told this is of vital importance, I never understood why he couldn't just show up the next morning and say his 21st birthday got out of hand and he couldn't make it to the club. I don’t know any employers who wouldn’t understand that, which calls into question just how high the stakes of Michael finding his ID are. Compare that to The Hangover, whose premise was simple and whose stakes are sky-high: Find Doug before his wedding. So I had some issues with that aspect of the script.

But the big question is, why did it sell? I think there’s always going to be a market for the wacky comedy. The trick is partnering up with the right people. Hurwitz and Schlossberg are becoming major forces in the industry, as they’re almost single-handedly branding the young crazy no-holds-barred comedy angle. They have several of these types of movies in the pipeline, including another project I reviewed awhile ago (and liked quite a bit) that they’re directing. So the industry sees these guys as experts in this market and they trust them. So when they come along with an idea in that wheelhouse, any studio is going to take a good hard look at it, and in this case, they bought it.

For me, with college being a good ways away, it wasn’t quite my thing. Maybe if they’d written a script called, “1 and A Half Beers And A Nap.” That’s something I could relate to.

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

What I learned: 21 Shots uses a lot of pop culture references. There are jokes about Clay Aiken, Brandy, the Duke LaCrosse team, and David Carridine sex games. Using pop culture is always a risky proposition, especially these days, with how quickly media picks up new stories. A joke that’s hilarious today could be dated two weeks from now. And since you never know when someone’s going to read your script, staying topical is almost impossible. For this reason, I advise against it. Anything that dates your script is usually a bad thing. For example, if you make a joke about Britney Spears’ shaved head, I know when your script was written, and it's already feeling stale. Since these two had Hurwitz and Schlossberg on their team, there’s an understanding that the jokes they're using are interchangeable. They can always update them once production starts. But for you, the non-producer partner-having writer, it’s too risky. I’d advise to stay out of the pop culture game.

One last note. I know these comedy specs get beaten up in the talkback by the fanboys who are looking for more genre-fare. But I also know that there are a lot of comedy fans who read the site because I get a ton of requests for comedy reviews. Yet you guys never show up when it’s time to discuss the script. That’s what we’re here for. We want to see what scripts are selling or getting made, and we want to discuss why so we can make ourselves better writers. So comedy fans, let’s hear you!