Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Screenplay Review - The Phantom Limb

Genre: Dark Drama
Premise: A down on his luck private eye investigates a notorious gangster and uncovers a brothel that caters exclusively to clients with amputee fetishes.
About: About the only thing you're going to find on writer Kevin Koehler is that he likes to write movie reviews on Amazon.com.  Which is strange, because this script was written in 2008 (when it snuck onto the bottom of the Black List) and it's awful darn snazzy!  You'd think that by now something would've happened.  But IMDB is still confused as to who Koehler is, which I assure you will change soon, since Phantom is unlike anything I've read before.
Writer: Kevin W. Koehler
Details: 1st draft - Sept 18, 2008 draft (Black List draft)

I love me some messed up minds - people with f'd up shit going on in their heads.  Now let me be clear.  I don't want to meet these people.  A part of me would be afraid for my precious little beating heart.  But reading their scripts??  Yeah, I want to do that.  They can't stab me from a thousand miles away, even if, at times, The Phantom Limb feels like it can reach into your soul from anywhere.

So what's this script about?  Well, imagine the movie Brick mixed with Chinatown mixed with Seven.  Do I have your attention?  I'm guessing I do.

Private eye John David Booth lives a sad life.  His wife is a sex addict who's become so numb to "normal" sexual intercourse that she seeks out the strange, the weird, and the perverse, in order to keep their sex life satisfying.  She often invites men or women into their bedroom, with no thoughts as to how this would affect Booth.  And the weirder these people are, the better.  For example, she often has a clown come in to have a 3-way with them.  That's right.  A clown.

Booth loves his wife but this world is not for him.  And besides, he's got his own sexual issues.  There's something about his right arm that doesn't seem to....fit.  It always feels awkward.  He never knows what to do with it, especially during and after sex.  So he becomes obsessed with cutting it off.  That's right, Booth wants to amputate his own arm.

While Booth tries to find someone to do this for him, a job appears in the form of the overweight Wendell Multhorpe.  Multhorpe's wife has been missing for three months now, and he needs Booth to find her.  If he does, Multhorpe, who's a cosmetic doctor, will give Booth what he wants - to have his arm amputated.  When Booth starts looking into it, however, he soon discovers that the man who hired him isn't the real Multhorpe, and the woman he gave Booth a picture of isn't his real wife.

This leads Booth on his own trek to find out why someone claiming to be Multhorpe would hire him to find someone who wasn't really his wife.  It doesn't make any sense.

Eventually, this leads him to notorious crime boss Shoulders Marquand, who goes way back with Booth.  Shoulders definitely knows something about all this but pretends not to.  This only gets Booth more curious.  So he begins looking into the REAL Multhorpe and his wife, who ALSO seem to be hiding something.

But shit really starts to hit the fan when sets of chopped-off feet start showing up everywhere.  Looks like Booth isn't the only one into chopping off body parts.  The more he keeps digging, the more pissed off Shoulders gets, and the more he not-so-gently suggests that Booth should leave it alone.

To make things even stranger, writer Koehler sets this entire story inside of a present-day 1950s. So it's the present, but the cars are all 50s cars, the dress code is 1950s, we even have a Starbucks, but done up in retro fashion, with baristas looking like 50s soda shop employees, and a lack of any choices in the coffee department (you only get black or decaf).  So if the story wasn't weird enough, the alien setting makes it even stranger.  Which is a good thing, because the strength of this script is definitely its weirdness.

I think Rian Johnson would be a great choice to direct this.  I even 
e-mailed him to tell him so.  

However, I REALLY wish I could've seen the final draft instead of this one, because this definitely feels like a wet clay version, particularly with its intricate but not very well interwoven third act.  I'm not even sure Jones knew where he was going with it, and it shows.  I was rarely sure what Booth was doing after awhile. And it still doesn't make sense why a fake Multhorpe hired Booth to look for his fake wife in the first place.  Koehler may have written himself into some corners he couldn't write himself out of.  At least not in this draft.

The good news is that the script never stops being interesting.  From the setting to the characters to the story to the dialogue (which is written in that classic 50s-cinema private eye style), you're never sure what the next page will bring.  Readers love that, as like I mentioned the other day, we just read the same shit over and over again all the time.  It's nice to read something that isn't the same shit!

Probably one of my favorite things that Koehler did was building up Booth's character.  Writers will oftentimes focus exclusively on their protagonist's backstories to add depth.  But it's just as important to establish what's going on in your hero's life RIGHT NOW.  The relationships they have.  The work issues they have.  The social issues they have.

Audiences tend to be more interested in what's happening NOW as opposed to 20 years ago anyway, so establishing current problems can add a lot of "kick" to a character. This whole thing with Booth's wife being a sex addict and how that's torn their marriage apart, really informs his character, as we can see how emotionally destroyed he is, and how those sick perversions eat at him every day at work.  It actually makes it plausible, despite how ridiculous the notion is, that he'd want to cut off his own arm.

The Phantom Limb doesn't quite add up to the sum of its parts, but I think we've found a very under-appreciated writer here.  Koehler needs to be writing movies way more than most of these writers I read every day.  And I feel this script will find a life somewhere, what with the upcoming 50 Shades Of Gray frenzy that's going to go on.  Don't count out The Phantom Limb yet!

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

What I learned: Director-bait!  A great way to create interest with a script is to make it director bait.  I mean look at this script.  You have amputees, clown 3-ways, castles with makeshift moats and animatronic alligators, and a setting that's a mash-up between the 50s and 012's.  One of the most important factors in getting a script made is the director.  The studio HAS to believe in him.  So a movie doesn't go until a good one is in place.  Therefore you have to do something special to entice those directors. Koehler went the route of a rich original visual mash-up.  What's your director bait?