a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, June 16, 2008

When Casting Is A Spoiler

So the other night I was watching the DVD of a movie called "Cleaner", directed by Renny Harlin and starring Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Ed Harris and Luis Guzman. It was a random arrival for my online-DVD-reviews-in-exchange-for-free-DVDs gig.

It's not a bad movie, and it does some things well. But it went straight to DVD basically because it doesn't do enough of them well enough for it to really have deserved a theatrical release, though I'm sure Jackson didn't know that was going to happen when he signed on.

And Jackson almost makes the movie work; he's very watchable, as always.


The problem is that though this is essentially a mystery, in which Jackson is trying to figure out who tricked him into cleaning up a crime scene, it is really painfully obvious for most of the film who the bad guy is going to be.

It's going to be Ed Harris' character, ex-cop Jackson's buddy and former cop partner. How do we know this?

Because it's such a nothing part that there's no reason why Ed Harris would do the movie unless he was going to turn out to be the killer.

For the first 80% of the film, Harris just occasionally wanders in, and really has nothing to do. The writer doesn't even attempt to really give him a storyline to make this seem like an Ed Harris-worthy part; he's just a minor character.

As if.

So it's distracting, because when we're supposed to be being misled into thinking that maybe Luis Guzman is the bad eye, our eye is firmly on Ed Harris throughout, waiting for him to come out of the shadows for the requisite showdown ending.

Sure enough.

This happens on LAW AND ORDER a lot too. Some B or C-list actress will pop up in a guest starring role, and initially it'll seem like they are just a family member. But of course they are always more important than we should initially think -- except we know that they are going to be the key character, so it doesn't really work.

Just once I'd like to see a really clever bait-and-switch, where we see a guy in the they-are-only-in-the-movie-because-they-are-the-bad-guy part, and it turns out that they aren't the bad guy, and in fact it is a nothing role. Just to shake up people's expectations a bit.


THE INCREDIBLE HULK made an estimated $54.5 million this past weekend, so I was friggin' close.

THE HAPPENING made an estimated $30.5 million, a lot more than I thought. So M. Night is going to get to keep making movies. Here's hoping he knocks one out of the park soon, though I think he could really use some screenwriting help, either by co-writing or simply by getting someone else to pen one of his scripts.


At 1:10 PM, Blogger Joshua James said...

LAW & ORDER used to cast regular NYC actors in all the guest parts, which was good because you got to see some great actors before they took off, and kept broadway actors busy in between shows.

Then SUV started the "guest actor" gigs, which spoiled everything because you knew if a name was coming in, they were coming in to do something of note, terrible or otherwise. It made it all too predictable.

I remember seeing LA CONFIDENTIAL in theatres (twice) and how cool it was because the only real name in the movie was Kevin Spacey . . .


Who gets killed off midway through it. Russell Crowe wasn't a big star yet, nor was Guy Pierce, they were both Aussies who had to audition and they were the heroes. Cromwell and Straithorn were at the same level of film recognition, so it worked out.

I'm not counting Kim, of course, who is there as arm candy in the film.

I remember folks being so shocked with Spacey got shot, because they didn't expect HIM to be killed and how he was killed.

Good casting, that film. Really good.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Scott, I agree with you, sometimes you can predict how a plot going to unfold based on the names playing the parts.

M.Knight Shalyman ROCKS! "Signs" was pretty good, and "The 6th Sence" is a masterpiece. So I'm with ya, I hope he does whatever it takes for him to get back making great movies again. The guy seams to have an edge to him. I wonder if (in the words of Luke Wilson's character from "The Family Stone") he has a freak flag, and if so -- what's it take for him to fly it?

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 8:21 AM, Blogger Brett said...

Scott-- did ya see that HAPPENING kicked HULK's 98 pound ass overseas? I'm guessing that some comic book characters really never developed much following in Bhutan, Sierra Leone, and Slobovia.

Personally, I think I would pay money to avoid BOTH movies.

On the other point, there have been a few good examples of major stars having surprise early exits-- PSYCHO, of course, being one of the better examples.

At 2:36 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Law and Order actually has done the bait and switch thing a time or two.

At 7:37 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

This is the thing producers don't understand. On BLACK THUNDER I lobbied like crazy to get a name cast as the pilot in the opening... because he seems to be the hero, does all of the things a hero does... and then gets killed. If they had cast a name in that role, it would have been a shock. Instead they cast a red short from Star Trek, and when you first see him on screen you go, "Oh, this is the guy who dies, so that they have to call in the hero."

It's funny, but I think screenwriters are often the only people who consider what the audience is thinking.

- Bill

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steven Seagal's early exit in Executive Decision was a pleasant surprise.


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