Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Murder Of A Cat

Genre: Offbeat Comedy
Premise: When a man’s cat is impaled by an arrow, he will go to the ends of the earth (or at least his town) to find the killer.
About: Hey, it’s List Week. Murder Of A Cat made last year’s Black List, and it looks to be the writers’ breakthrough screenplay. Before this, they were slapping together short movies that had about as much of a chance turning a profit as a Delgo sequel. Now they’re writing an animated King Kong movie for Fox Animation that will tell the famous story from the vantage point of the big ape. Oh what a difference a great script makes!
Writers: Christian Magalhaes & Robert Snow
Details: 109 pages (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).

Jermaine Clement for Clinton?

Truth? I love murdered cat stories. I actually have – believe it or not – a cat murdering comedy idea of my own! It’s nothing like this, and actually, now that I’ve read “Murder Of A Cat,” I probably won’t write it, since this is clearly the best cat murder story ever told. But there’s something inherently funny about a cat being murdered, right? Right?? Or maybe not? Hmmm…we’ll have to get Bohdicat’s take, as he’s our resident cat expert. As for Christian Magalhaes and Robert Snow, I don’t know who these guys are, but I have a feeling after their King Kong flick, they’re going to have quite an impact on the comedy scene. The sense of humor on display here is just so…out there.

30-something Clinton Moisey isn’t living the life of luxury. Actually, scratch that. He isn’t living YOUR idea of the life of luxury. He is, possibly, living his. Clinton lives with his mother and runs a barely profitable yard sale business on the weekends. He has two loves. Building his own action figures and his cat, Mouser.

Mouser’s getting up there in age, and Clinton is very obsessive compulsive about Mouser’s health. If his fur so much as feels weird, it’s off to the vet. Clinton’s mother thinks he’s crazy (and he might be – he is considering taking his cat to a cat psychiatrist) but hey, Mouser is his best friend in the entire world. He wants to make sure he’s okay.

Well, Mouser isn’t okay the next morning. That’s because Mouser’s DEAD. Sprawled out on the street with an ARROW through his belly. Clinton is devastated, but also really angry. Whoever did this isn’t going to get away with it. They’re going to PAY.

After finding a few “missing cat” flyers throughout the neighborhood that have a cat displayed who looks mysteriously like Mouser, Clinton follows the leads to a girl’s apartment, breaks in, and finds pictures of Mouser all over the place! This crazy woman has been stalking his cat and planning to kill him for ages! The apartment owner, Greta, comes home, and the accusations start flying. But after they calm down, the two realize that the cat was “moonlighting,” living with both of them at the same time. And just like that, the potential suspects have doubled.

Clinton, who’s not exactly a charmer around the ladies, reluctantly enlists Greta to help him find the killer. The two trace the arrow back to a unique crossbow sold at the Walmart like superstore Greta used to work at AND that put Clinton’s comic book store out of business (or so he believes).

The central suspects include the freakishly weird Yi Kim, a 19 year old Asian who loves magic, and Alistair Ford, the recently divorced owner of the Mega-Store. Clinton breaks into the store and sees both suspects moving merchandise inside the packages meant for the crossbow that killed his cat. So there’s obviously a bigger plan going on here. The problem is, Greta starts to think they’re in too deep and wants out, which leaves Clinton to do it all on his own. Which is fine by him. Cause Clinton Moisey WILL find out who killed Mouser. Through hell or damp cat litter!

I thought this script was pretty much awesome. It’s a hard tone to describe and it’s definitely not going to be for everyone but if I were pushed to come up with a description, I would say it’s a cross between A Confederacy Of Dunces and Eagle Vs. Shark. I mean obviously, Clinton is heavily influenced by Ignatius J. Reilley. He’s eccentric, deluded, and socially unaware. Every time I come across a character like this (The Most Annoying Man in The World, Zach Galifianikias’ character in Due Date) I kick myself for not writing them myself. These characters are always funny.

And the fact that his best friend in the world is a cat, that he lives with his mother, that he runs a yard sale, and that he believes Ford’s Megastore put his comic book store out of business (Ford Megastore doesn’t even sell comics) – I mean this is 50% of the work here – coming up with a memorable interesting main character for your script. Murder Of A Cat definitely has that.

And the script itself is so damn funny. The totally bizarre Yi Kim randomly performing magic tricks on you (pulling cigarettes out of your ear at the most inopportune or inappropriate moments). At one point Yi is close to dying and in between sputtering breaths, performs his favorite cigarette behind the ear magic trick, cause, you know, he just has to. And the script contained the biggest laugh of the year for me – yanking out the Braveheart reference – when during a nightmare immediately after Mouser’s death, dead Mouser, cast in dramatic blue light, turns to Clinton and whispers, “Help me.”

And it’s clever. I’ve seen just about every way possible of putting a man and woman together who don’t want to be together in a movie, but I’ve never seen two people brought together by co-owning a moonlighting cat that was murdered. Who thinks of that??

Then there’s the details. Details are what tell me whether a writer’s really thought their story through or not. For example, Magalhaes and Snow knew that the ridiculousness of this premise was going to hinge on how much we wanted Clinton to find the killer. So the night before Mouser’s killed, they give us a brief scene, less than half a page, right before Clinton goes to bed, where Mouser is sitting on Clinton’s stomach, and just purring at him. It’s a quiet, tender, loving moment. And it sells the drive and the determination that Clinton has for the rest of the movie.

The only reason Murder Of A Cat didn’t score an impressive was because the love story sort of fell apart as the script went on. The story is set up for Clinton to learn to connect with real people, and not live in this fantasy bubble where your only friend is a cat. I thought that was a great message to explore. He loses the love of his life, but gains something much more important (real human emotion) as a result.

But Greta keeps disappearing during the second act, sending Clinton to do most of his work solo. For that reason, when the final act has the two come together, it doesn’t ring true, because they haven’t been around each other enough to sell it. It’s not a huge issue, but it is an issue.

Outside of that, I really liked Murder Of A Cat. It’s quirky and unusual and possesses that pivotal story trait all readers love – unpredictability. It’s definitely not for everyone. If you don’t like Eagle Vs. Shark or have never read A Confederacy Of Dunces, you might be mumbling the equivalent of, “Damn that Carson. Why the hell does he think this is funny???” But if you’re into weird humor, take a chance on this one. I bet you’ll like it.

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

What I learned: Some commenters have recently pointed out that you need to set things up in your first act so you can pay them off in your second act. Here’s a good example. We set up that Clinton HATES Ford’s Megastore. He believes it’s the devil and that it destroyed his Comic Book business. For this reason, when he finds out that the arrow that killed his cat CAME from the Megastore, there’s more at stake with him having to go there. There’s a history between him and the place. That gives those store scenes so much more weight than if the store HADN’T been set up. And all it took was a couple of lines in the first act!