Monday, January 17, 2011

Last Vegas

Genre: Comedy
Premise: Four best friends in their 70 head to Vegas for a bachelor party.
About: Dan Fogelman, screenwriter of Scriptshadow favorite Crazy Stuipid Love and recent Black List entry, Imagine, sold Last Vegas earlier in the year. In related news, Fogelman also sold his Wednesday Jack In The Box receipt for high six figures to Warner Brothers. Speculation is rampant about what was on the receipt. My sources tell me it was 2 tacos, a Jack’s Crispy Chicken with cheese, and an Oreo Milkshake. Receipt review to come. The producers of Last Vegas seemed to have moved on from Fogelman and handed the script over to Rom-Com scribe Adam Brooks. Brooks has penned such films as Definitely Maybe and Practical Magic. It looks to be a certainty that Jack Nicholson will be cast in the lead, and you should expect Morgan Freeman to be there as well.
Writer: Dan Fogelman (rewrites by Adam Brooks)
Details: 111 pages (Oct. 5, 2010 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).

In my endless pursuit of everything Dan Fogelman, I finally got my hands on Last Vegas. However of all Fogelman’s projects, this was the one I was the most wary about. Seeing as I don’t yet depend on adult diapers, a movie about a bunch of old fogies reliving the golden days at a Vegas bachelor party sounded like it could be kind of good, but also kinda of bad. But with Fogelman (and now Brooks) at the helm, I was pretty confident they’d make it work.

Those not familiar with Brooks’ work should go rent Definitely, Maybe when you get the chance. It’s easily the most mature romantic comedy I’ve seen in the last decade. The problem with the movie is it has that big goofy Ryan Reynolds smirk on the cover coupled with Little Miss Sunshine Girl doing her post Sunshine musical chairs run, making a really good movie look positively terrible. But I’m telling you, if you’re even mildly into romantic comedies and you haven’t seen it, check it out.

Now when you write comedies with old people in the leads (Space Cowboys, Cocoon, The Bucket List), there’s a lofty hurdle to overcome: Not letting the story get too depressing. Inevitably, death is a strong theme in these movies, and if every ten pages the audience is reminded that they’re going to die, there’s a good change word of mouth is going to die as well.

This is why I was so pleasantly surprised with 2008 Black List script, Winter’s Discontent, easily the best “old folks” movie not yet made. The whole film is about one thing: getting laid. It’s told with a zest for life that most teenage flicks would envy. I had the same high hopes for Last Vegas. Personally, I think Bucket List meets The Hangover is a winning combination. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get in this draft of Last Vegas. At all.

The biggest surprise about Last Vegas is that it goes almost exactly how you think it’s going to go, except a lot slower. It’s like our characters are stripped of their tap shoes and dropped into a vat of quick sand. The character introductions are too long. The story takes forever to set up. The initial Vegas scenes have nothing going on. The character conflict is too basic. It’s like the script has been raped of fun.

And that’s when I sat back and realized, “Oh boy, this is like the worst writing assignment ever.” Old folks going crazy in Vegas *could* be good. But after writing in all two minutes and thirty seconds of trailer moments (Getting wasted at a club, partying like Entourage at the pool, old guys macking on chicks, and Jack Nicholson involved in some Viagra joke) what the hell do you do with the other 108 pages? I think Fogelman and Brooks were asking the same question.

Oh yeah, what’s this movie about? Well, we have have eternal ladies man Bill, stick up his ass Paddy, wisecracker Sam, and voice of reason Archibald (who will be played by Morgan Freeman of course). The four have been friends forever and at the ripe old age of 70, Bill is getting married for the first time (to a 30 year old). So they go to Vegas for a bachelor party.

The main source of conflict is between Bill and Paddy, which began because Bill didn’t show up for Paddy’s wife’s funeral a couple of years ago. So Paddy spends the entire trip bitching at Bill, and this may be the script’s biggest problem. Paddy is so effing annoying. It’s bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch. He just will not stop whining. He’s like that friend at work who can’t shut up about how much he hates the job, yet he never quits.

Anyway, the two meet an older female singer named Diana (who I’m willing to bet a thousand dollars on will be played by Susan Sarandon) and they both fall for her, which of course only adds to their existing conflict.

Sam, in the meantime, has received a “hall pass” from his wife for the weekend, and I’m sorry but I’m putting a moratorium down right now for all writers. If a girlfriend or wife gives your main character a hall pass, THEY HAVE TO USE IT. They can’t meet someone at the last second, sparks fly, get two seconds away from sex, then decide that they love their wife too much and no longer want to use the hall pass. I’ve read that ending in about ten different scripts.

There is one winning moment in the script, and that’s in the first act when Billy interrupts a eulogy he’s giving to propose to his girlfriend – a true Jack Nicholson moment - but it’s unfortunately the only memorable sequence in the screenplay. Everything else is very basic Las Vegas staples.

I am not giving up on Last Vegas, but someone needs to slap the electric paddles on this corpse and jolt the fucker to life. Everything here needs to be bigger. That’s what Winter’s Discontent figured out. In movies like American Pie or The Hangover, the energy is so over the top with the young characters that we’re practically begging for slow moments. With old people we’re limping from the get-go. So we don't want to slow down.  Yet we slow down numerous times for character moments here and it brings everything to a dead stop. 

You know me. I’m Mr. Character Development. But the character development here just felt like a bunch of old guys complaining with each other. Maybe if those moments were more compelling than Paddy bitching the whole time, they would’ve worked, but my feeling is that if this thing is going to sing, it needs its characters to want to have fun.

The script also got me thinking of a mistake a lot of intermediate and even pro writers make. Sometimes a premise is so obvious that you give it an obvious treatment. And even though everything’s right where it needs to be and the structure would give Robert McKee a hard-on, it’s plagued by an obviousness that kills it. When these guys meet George Maloof and he sets them up in his best suite, I felt like I’d fallen into a pit with every discarded Vegas script ever written. You definitely want to give the audience what they want (the promise of the premise) but if it’s exactly what they want, they’re going to lose interest.

That’s why The Hangover was so popular. You have tigers in bathrooms and naked Chinese men flying out of trunks and chickens and babies and Mike Tyson. You got everything you wanted out of the premise, but not exactly how you thought you were going to get it. I’m just not seeing any imagination in Last Vegas, and that’s contributing to why it reads so slow.

This project has a lot going for it. You put Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Chirstopher Walken and Dustin Hoffman in an old man’s Hangover, people are going to show up to see it. But if all it is is a bunch of old guys complaining with each other, the box office might be looking at an early funeral.

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

What I learned: Is the treatment of your idea too obvious? Stories are a bit like train rides. You take a bunch of people from point A to point B. However sometimes you gotta stop the train and let the people explore a little bit. Have’em get stuck in a town overnight or lose their luggage or get robbed. The most memorable thing about a trip is never the stuff you planned ahead of time. It’s the unexpected things that are always the most exciting.