Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Mallusionist

Genre: Comedy
Premise: When washed up magician Bobby Glitter finds out he has a 9 year old son who knows all his tricks, he enlists him to defeat his old nemesis, Seth Desstiny, now the top magician in the world.
About: The Mallusionist finished on the 2007 Black List I believe.  I've already reviewed one of Robbie Pickering's scripts, The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea (starring Chloe Moretz and Jessica Biel), which is nothing like this one by the way.  In fact, I thought that script was pretty sloppily written.  Not the case with this one, which is one of the tightest-structured comedies I've read in awhile.  Pickering's writing partner, Ricci, used to be a boom operator.  He's since made some shorts, but is still looking for his first produced credit.
Writers: Jase Ricci and Robbie Pickering
Details: 107 pages (undated)

Focus focus focus.

That's the name of the game when you're writing a screenplay.  The story has to be FOCUSED.  Without focus you have....hmm, what's the opposite of focus?  Blur?  You have blur.  Or 'unfocusedness.'  Whatever the hell it's called, that's what I spend the majority of my time reading - unfocusedness.  Even professional writers have trouble keeping their stories focused for some reason.

Now The Mallusionist isn't going to win any screenwriting awards.  Heck, it probably won't win any screenwriting contests.  But I'll tell you what.  This script is focused.  And when you read as much rambling nonsense as I do (ahem, yesterday's script anyone!), you appreciate when writers get it right.  These writers get it right.  Oh, and not to mention, it makes you ROTFL too!

Back in the 80s and 90s, Bobby Glitter was one of the best magicians ever to grace the stage.  He could rock sequins better than Dolly Parton.  But the bigger Bobby got, the bigger his head got, and pretty soon it stopped being about the magic.  It became about the girls, the drugs, the fame.  I mean sure, he could make a car disappear.  But what does that matter when you've also made your own SOUL disappear!

So one day a new magician bursts onto the scene who wears black nail polish instead of sequins.  He calls himself Seth Desstiny and he's a huge fan of Bobby's.  Unfortunately, Bobby blows him off, and Desstiny becomes obsessed with taking Bobby down.  During a national live show, then, that's exactly what he does, spiking Bobby's drink with every hallucinogen known to man.  Bobby freaks out (thinking everyone in the audience is a raccoon and starts attacking them), and the resulting fallout sends his career into a tailspin.

Cut to the present day and Seth Desstiny is the biggest magician in the world.  Bobby, on the other hand, is scraping by as a talent manager managing children's party magicians.  You see, during the "drugged" event, Bobby lost his depth perception in both eyes, and is therefore unable to perform magic anymore.

But it gets worse.  Bobby owes the Quebecian magician/acrobatic team "Cirque du Sommeil" 95 grand.  And these French speaking performers aren't as smiley as their costumes.  If they don't get their money, they're metaphorically pushing him off the tightrope. As in KILLNG him.  Like he'll be DEAD.  So yeah, it's not looking peachy.

But it gets worse.  One of the many women Bobby bedded during those rambunctious 90s ended up having his child!  And now she's dying.  So she calls Bobby in to ask him to take care of the kid if she doesn't make it.  Bobby can barely remember this woman and the last thing he wants to worry about is a kid so he tries to sneak the hell out of there.

But when Bobby realizes that his 9 year old chubby effeminate nerdy little son has learned all of his tricks, he sees a huge opportunity.  Seth Desstiny is holding a magic contest in a month and the winner gets a hundred grand and the opportunity to face off against him.  That's all Bobby needs to hear.  It's time to train Stevie!

But Stevie doesn't want to do "magics" (that's how he says magic).  Stevie just wants to watch Oprah, say words like "wondrous" and play G.I. Joes.  So Bobby has to do a little persuading.  Okay, a lot of persuading.  He tells Stevie that his mommy is probably going to die and the one thing she wanted more than anything was for Stevie to go to Vegas with him and become a magician.

Stevie will now have to square off against kabuki magicians, mime magicians, and the dreaded Dante Inferno, who it is rumored knows the ways of dark magic, if he's going to get a shot at Seth Desstiny.  However, when Desstiny learns that Bobby's kid is gunning for him, he plans to take him out before Stevie even gets the chance.

Okay so yes, this does read a little like a 90s Adam Sandler flick.  But the thing to remember is that the 90s Adam Sandler flicks were actually pretty funny.  At least compared to the abominations he puts out today.  But that's neither here nor there.  I want comedy writers to take a look at the structure of this screenplay because this is about as perfectly structured as you can make a comedy script.

First off, you have the goal.  Bobby needs his son to win the Seth Desstiny Challenge.  That's the main component that will drive the story.   Once you have that character goal, you can write every scene to push your hero towards that goal.

The second is stakes.  Bobby owes Cirque Du Sommeil 95 grand.  The winner of the Seth Desstiny challenge gets 100 grand.  So if his son doesn't win the challenge, Bobby will be killed (now that's high stakes!).  Now you can point out how ridiculous it is that the amount of money Bobby owes matches perfectly the prize money for the challenge.  I agree that this is ridiculous.  However, this is a comedy.  And in comedies, you can get away with this sort of thing.  I would never agree to this set-up in, say, a drama.

Finally, we have the urgency.  This is the only tricky component of the script because there isn't a traditional ticking time bomb here.  But, there are two time-sensitive variables.  The first is the Cirque Du Sommeil guys.  They're chasing Bobby and are always on his trail.  So we know that sooner or later, they're going to catch up.  Remember, your hero being chased is a great way to create urgency!  We also have the competition.  This isn't necessarily a "count down or else" scenario, but it does put a timeframe on everything.  Therefore, we know where the movie is headed, which is important if you want to keep the story focused.

I'm not going to say that every movie fits the G(oal) S(takes) U(urgency) model, but the traditional comedy is one that does.  So if you're writing a comedy, you want to make sure these things are in place.

As for the guts of the script, I thought it was pretty funny!  It's cut from the same cloth as Bad Santa, Bad Teacher and Bad Words.  Stevie is absolutely hilarious ("magics").  His nonstop use of the word "wondrous" had me on the floor.  And the pure level of evil Bobby stoops to to get Stevie to work with him ("Your mom's going to die unless you do magic") was so deliciously wrong (but so right!) that I was smiling and shaking my head the whole time.  I also thought they handled Bobby's transformation well.  When he starts loving Stevie as a son, it doesn't feel forced for some reason. I'm not sure how they did this because usually these things read false.  But they were just dialed in here.  I liked this one WAY more than The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.

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

What I learned:  Update audiences on where we are in the journey.  Imagine you're on a plane but have NO IDEA how long the flight's going to be.  Sound like fun?  I don't think so.  People never truly grow out of "Are we there yet?"  We need updates.  We need to know how much longer.  Therefore, your characters should provide a couple of updates during the script on where we are.  For example, on page 45 of The Mallusionist, Bobby tells Stevie, "Okay, we got five more warm-up joints before we get to Vegas for the big competition."  It's a seemingly insignificant line but it settles the audience.  It lets them know where they are on the journey.  I'm telling you, if you forget to update the audience, they'll get impatient.  And impatience leads to boredom.