Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Baytown Disco

Guys. Get those script lists ready! Wednesday is the official 2010 cast your votes for your favorite scripts so we can update the Reader Favorites list day. This week will have a couple of odd script reviews, one which I thought was really good, yet reminded me a little too much of something else on my Top 25 list, and another for a movie that's being released this weekend. Don't forget to get here early in case the links go down. Right now, here's Roger with a Black List script review.

Genre: Crime, Thriller
Premise: Three redneck brothers get in over their heads when they agree to help a woman kidnap her son back from his seemingly evil father.
About: The actors-turned-writers met in 2004 when they were cast in a project together. In 2006 they made and starred in a short film called Mr. Extion, which screened at over 40 festivals and went on to win 14 awards. In 2008 they were invited to the Delray Beach Film Festival's Script-to-Reel Challenge where they won the competition with The Baytown Disco. They are represented by Elevate Entertainment and the Agency for the Performing Arts.
Writers: Barry Battles & Griffin Hood
Details: October 24, 2008 draft

I was scrolling through the 2009 Black List, looking for something crime-flavored when I saw the logline to The Baytown Disco. There were three words that hooked me: redneck, kidnap, and evil. Yep, sometimes that's all it takes to hook Roger Balfour.
As a Georgia boy, I was delighted to discover that this was a tale about Southern antiheroes, a trio of fellas as mean as rattlesnakes who agree to kidnap a child only to find themselves contending with all manner of bounty hunter and assassin available between El Paso, Texas and Montgomery, Alabama.
Imagine a movie where The Brothers Tremor from Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces are the heroes, and you've got the gist.
But Rog, what sets these antiheroes apart from The Tremor Brothers and The Boondock Saints?
Folks, meet The Oodie Brothers.
The progeny of Jonathan Warren Oodie, or Johnny Boy for short. Johnny Boy is a figure out of a Prohibition folktale, a mountain man who comes from one of the biggest shine running families east of the Mississippi. Johnny Boy is notorious for taking control of his local Klan chapter while he was still in his twenties, eventually going out in a blaze of glory during a federal drug raid, leaving behind his three boys.
There's Brick, the leader of the bunch, a dude who wears a tanktop fashioned out of a Confederate flag and leather pants. He openly wears a holster that contains a sawed-off scatter gun like he's some kind of hillbilly Mad Max.
There's McQueen, the baby of the brood, who was approached by a modeling agent once. It turns out McQueen ain't above almost beating another human being to death, even if it's a woman. Even if the woman was the modeling agent who complimented him. See, McQueen ain't that smart. He thought she was thinking "he was a fag".
Then, there's Lincoln. The Mohawked mute. Standing at 6'5" and weighing in at 250 pounds, Lincoln wears a Speak-n-Spell (such a great character detail!) around his neck. For, you know, whenever he needs to say something. Which isn't much, as he's the impregnable muscle of our outlaw triumvirate.
When we meet them, they're stepping out of their 1976 Ford Maverick, which might as well be a character itself. Finding themselves in the projects of Montgomery, McQueen exclaims, "Hot as hell down here in ole Mexico." Of course, the Hispanic men nearby take offense, but quickly walk the other way when Lincoln climbs out of the car.
The brothers, in true scorched earth-fashion, shoot their way into a den of gangbangers, killing everyone in their way. They even flush some of them out of a kitchen using a dummy grenade. To a man bleeding to death on the floor, Brick says, "I figure since you can't speak my language you can't hear my language none either, but just so you know, the Latin Kings paid us to come make all this mess."
When Brick finally shoots the man in the face, silencing him, McQueen strolls in with a piece of mail, exclaiming, "You ain't gonna believe this. We got the wrong house."
No matter.
Back in the car, Lincoln does a line of coke off his Speak-n-Spell and makes it say, "This yayo is good sheet." Appropriately coked out of their minds, the Oodies make their way to an Irish pub called O'Houlihan's. To them, this Irish bar is an odd architectural anomaly in the middle of God's Country, and they dutifully begin to insult its patrons by telling racist jokes.
"What's two miles long and has an IQ of forty?"
"A Saint Patty's Day parade."
"What happened when the Irish woman bought a vibrator?"
"She smashed all her teeth out."
Then we're treated to a good ol'fashioned bar brawl.
Sure, bar brawls are fun to write and fun to watch, but how do they move the story along? How do they reveal character?
Don't worry, ol'Balfour here found a subtext. The bar brawl scene reminded me of something out of The Boondock Saints. But in this case, it was truly entertaining. Written with an intelligence and Southern charm that kept me interested with a minimal rolling of eyes. It's like the writers took note of everything I don't like about Quentin Tarantino fan-fiction and were eager to prove that they were the real deal.
It's a helluva gesture, like the writers are bitchslapping Troy Duffy and his antihero creations. If, as an audience, I'm to understand that there exists a pissing contest between The Baytown Disco and The Boondock Saints, then I guess I'm here to report that this Black List script wins by a pungent deluge.
The difference?
Battles and Hood are better writers.
So what's the plot?
It's that classic crime genre staple: A simple snatch and grab job gone awry.
You see, a gorgeous little chica named Celeste Martin has been following our men. She approaches the Oodies with a proposition, "I want to hire you and your brothers to kidnap my son back from my ex-husband." That ain't exactly what these guys do, but when she offers to pay them fifty thousand dollars, we soon find our guys in El Paso.
Of course, they take a detour along the way to see some sights, such as a visit to the football stadium used in Friday Night Lights at the behest of fanboy McQueen.
"You think all the cool stuff in movies is really just boring in real life?"
"I bet if an asteroid crashed into your damn home, or Chuck Norris kicked your door in you wouldn't be too bored."
Amen, brothers Oodie.
It's these quirky little character gestures that make these white-trash, socially hell-bent characters likeable.
Anyways, it's not long before our countrified trinity arrive in El Paso, kill another household full of unsavory characters, and not so unsavory (they kill a maid), and whisk off their kidnap victim.
Rob has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, which shocks our guys, but it's not long before McQueen is being berated by Brick for suggesting that Rob is a retard.
Of course, Lincoln sort of imprints with Rob and it's kinda nice to see such a murderous brute tote the little boy around on his shoulders, as if the authors are referencing the young adult classic, Freak the Mighty.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves.
The raid incites the ire of Carlos, Celeste's husband, who is not a very nice guy. When we meet him, he's literally butchering a victim while he's lamenting about how fast a movie can go from theater to DVD, "Now days if you don't go see something immediately, it's gone from the theaters."
Now this is where the movie kicks in.
Carlos contacts some interesting people to go on a hunting expedition to retrieve the child back. In effect, he's unleashing the hounds of hell or the four horsemen of the apocalypse to kill our antiheroes.
Who are the hunters?
There's Eve, the madam of a brothel of whore assassins, a female biker gang called the Flamebangers.
If that's not enough, there's the Hood Pirates, a gang of Road Warrior-esque villains who control a treacherous state of highway with a flatbed truck that's been modified to look like a sailing vessel called The Nubian Princess. It even has gun ports and eleven-foot tall crow's nest.
That particular sequence is pretty fucking awesome. It's just so goddamn comical and tense. The policemen in a cop car who witness the mayhem bicker on whether they should get involved or not, "Now I don't know about you, but my pension plan don't cover shit like that."
There's The Nation, a band of Mississippi Choctaw Indians that kill with tomahawks.
And of course, there are the killers arriving from the North, sent by the crime syndicate that may or may not have something to do with Rob's true identity.
Sounds fun. How does it all play out?
There's some fun double-crossing and twists which involve Carlos and Celeste, and the two Alabama detectives tracking the Oodie's breadcrumb trail of chaos across the highways and bi-ways of the American South.
And although this script is written with a mature gravitas, there's one particular novice glitch involving the introduction of some key characters late in the game that lends to a finale that's a tad deus ex.
There's also some character elements that require a better structure and planting to make the payoffs smoother.
But you know, that's all stuff easily fixed in a rewrite and polish.
There's a lawlessness to the The Baytown Disco that reminds me of Robert Rodriguez' Mariachi trilogy, the work of Walter Hill, and (I mean this in the best way possible) that crazy cult classic, the legendary Road House. Just men bypassing the normal avenues of social control to resolve their conflicts the Western way, which is through violence.
Hell, man, someone give Battles and Hood a chance. Let 'em smooth out some of the structural issues, fine-tune the characters, and you'll have a script that the next Robert Rodriguez can direct on the cheap and on the fly. It's Christopher McQuarrie's The Way of the Gun meets George Miller's The Road Warrior. Seriously.
Who wouldn't want to see that?

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

What I learned: One of the strengths of this script is the dialogue, and I wasn't surprised when I learned that both Barry Battles and Griffin Hood are actors that hail from Birmingham. There's a twang to the vulgar vernacular that ratchets between gruff good ol' boy charm to the buzzsaw of angry Alabama cicadas. You wanna talk about voice? This script has a Tennessee Williams by way of Joe R. Lansdale feel to it that I just love.
But, how do you that? How do you write good dialogue? I think you've either got the ear or you don't, but one thing you can do is read the dialogue aloud. How does it sound? Are you tripping over words? Are the sentences too long? Is the dialogue saying what you want it to say? Are you using it to obscure or reveal character? Is it witty? Is it exposition heavy? Have other people read it. Are they entertained and charmed? Or is it lacking a spark? Polish it up, make the exchanges flow. Know when to cut to the next scene. Sometimes the worst thing you can do to the flow of a script is let a scene run too long, thus burying an effective exchange and obscuring what it was supposed to do in the first place.