BIG BOUNCE, THE
March 18th, 2004
Written by George Armitage, Sebastian Gutierrez
Reviewed by Christopher Wehner
NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.
A couple of years ago Elmore Leonard was an honored guest at the Telluride Film Festival, which I attended, and after a tribute to him Leonard Maltin, Barry Sonnenfeld, and Paul Schrader joined Elmore Leonard on stage to discuss his movies/books. It was a great evening of fascinating and enjoyable conversation. But what struck me most was the agreement among everyone that Leonard's books were always very "cinematic." They are very visual, with great characters, terse dialogue, and are always enjoyable reads.
Therefore it's no wonder virtually all of the movies made from his books are so damn good, or at the very least enjoyable. His latest book to be adapted is "The Big Bounce," which I have not read. The screenplay I have is dated August 14, 2002 and is written by George Armitage who rewrote Sebastian Gutierrez.
Leonard's books are excellent because he wonderfully sets up his stories with richly drawn characters and combines that with dramatic and often dynamic plot devices. These translate well onto the big screen and is why writers like Scott Frank, Paul Schrader, and Quentin Tarantino have faired well adapting his work.
The Big Bounce screenplay by Armitage is surprisingly thin on plot and characters. It pains me to say that as I'm a fan of Armitage. So I can't help but wonder if the script hasn't seen more rewrites. It's a script that's all payoff and no setup, as strange as that sounds, but true. The writing is breezy (100 pages) and for the first act or more there is simply nothing happening.
Here's the gist: Jack Ryan is a small time crook and construction worker who gets in a fight with the foreman of a big company (The apparent bad guys along with the wealthy owner of the company Ray Ritchiewho has a hot little sexpot girlfriend Nancy, who we get to know better a little later.) It doesnt take long before Jack is scamming for Ray's babe, Nancy.
Jack was facing serious charges after taking a baseball bat to the foreman, but mysteriously the chargers are dropped and he's asked to leave town. But he of course doesn't. Instead he takes a job offered by Walter, a good Samaritan and local Justice of the Peace.
The second act bogs down with the growing relationship between Nancy and Jack, and a very unimaginative one at that. The dialogue isn't cute or witty, though it aspires to be just that. There isn't enough happening to carry the story. The over development of this relationship brings the story to a halt. There's not enough happening beyond them. There's no conflict or drama. There isn't a supporting subplot. Things that were apparently setup in the beginning are really just window-dressing. I thought there would be a subplot dealing with why certain people wanted Jack to leave. They're hiding something obviously. But this never really develops enough. If there were no such subplots in Leonard's book than I hope there was more going on within it than what is shown in this script.
Ray Ritchie is a non-entity within this story. He should have been a stronger antagonist who helps to move the story forward by trying to get rid of Jack a little harder than he does. But that never really transpires. One of his henchmen, Bob Jr, ends up being the main antagonist. The more I think about this story the more I believe it really has no antagonist, which is a problem.
Before Jack takes Walter up on his job offer he does a few B & E's (that's breaking and entering) which starts to get us into the real story the writers are trying, unsuccessfully, to engage us with. Jack is your typical Leonard protagonist: a hero with an attitude who lets his feelings for an attractive woman get in his way. It's going to be his downfall, right? Paul likes the ladies, and they like him. He's cool and charming, and always capable of a wisecrack or two. Only here, the script isn't nearly as strong as other adaptations like Frank's Get Shorty or Tarantino's Jackie Brown.
I want to be more specific when I say that "nothing is happening" in the first and second acts. We don't have any ongoing conflict between an antagonist and the protagonist. There's nothing really driving the story. I wasn't even really sure what it was about until mid-second act. The title obviously gives that away, but beyond that I wasn't sure what I was reading. One example, I thought it was going to involve surfers somehow as that's eluded too several times. The second act is really all about Nancy and Jack, and their relationship. But even with this development the foreplay between them is a bit much to take after awhile. On top of that, there was nothing else going on to move the story forward. Okay, I think I've driven that point home.
Though I was surprised by how the story lulled me to sleep at times, I was even more surprised by the vapid dialogue. There wasn't that staccato burst or rhythm that I've come to expect from a screenplay adapted from an Elmore Leonard book. The dialogue didnt jump off the page like it usually does.
The last fifteen or so pages (the resolution) is pretty good and offers a real surprise and a nice plot twist. But as I said, the script is all payoff and no setup. In my humble opinion, there needs to be more happening and a lot more conflict in order for this script to become a successful cinematic story. It needs a new second act.
Until next time.