Monday, October 22, 2007

HELL FOR LOVERS by Angela Schultz

I want to thank everyone who participated in our first annual screenwriting contest! A lot of the material I received was truly wonderful and exciting, so even if your script wasn’t selected, I sincerely appreciate your willingness to share your writing with me.

When the contest was first announced, my inbox was flooded with submissions, but then there was a long dry spell with only a handful of scripts coming in at any given time. Fortunately another wave came crashing down in the days leading up to the deadline…including not one, but two new favorites for 2007.

Here’s the funny thing – rather, funny things. Not only were these two scripts written by guys whose work I’ve previously reviewed… Not only did I receive them around the same time…

These two scripts, written by two different authors (whom, I later learned, also started writing their respective scripts in 1999), are both romantic comedies about the supernatural, featuring twisted notions of heaven and hell…and paperwork. Heck, they’re even both set in New York City, with situations involving the Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and share some identical gags and jokes about the afterlife!

Coincidence? Fate? Plaigerism? Good/bad luck? Great minds thinking alike? No idea. But, as it should be with any reasonable critic, all that matters at the end of the day is that these two scripts are both really well written. Not to mention funny as hell. Literally.

Today I’ll start by reviewing this year’s third place winner, written by Angela Schultz. Angela, whose script PROGGER tied for 2nd place last year, was kind enough upon learning about my laptop troubles to email me the little cartoon you see here. It’s a fitting joke for both of us, as my computer – and her script – have hellish elements within them.

written by Angela Schultz

Contact information:
PO Box 101
Valley Stream, NY 11582
Telephone: (516) 568-9710

This supernatural comedy digs deep into the old adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” exploring the argument between consequences vs. good intensions with a lot of comic effect.

It follows a young man by the name of Clyde Dantes (cute name), who, while casually visiting the local dining pit (“Hamburger Heaven” – again, cute name, if not all that subtle), finds himself an unfortunate pawn in the mother of bad circumstances: a violent hold up by a charming biker fellow (with the charming, and appropriate, name of Blood and Guts) and his also-charming-ladyfriend-accomplice, Wilted Flower. (You gotta love Angela’s use of names.)

Out of desperation, Clyde, looking to control the situation through the best of intentions, manages to overpower Wilted Flower and points her gun at her head, hoping that her malevolent partner won’t call Clyde’s bluff. He’s rewarded for his bravery when, stumbling onto the scene, the police shoot Clyde dead, mistaking him for the perpetrator.

This opening scene is hilarious, so much so that the larger storyline that follows – while also funny and worthwhile – doesn’t quite measure up. But strong beginnings go a long way, and this is one of the strongest I’ve read.

What follows, of course, is Clyde’s adventures in the afterlife…and alas, it’s not all billowy clouds and pearly gates. Seemingly sent to hell through an extremely unfortunate technicality, Clyde finds the burning netherworld to be not only filled with the usual fire and brimstone, but a hell of a lot of paperwork. (No pun intended. And just you wait until I get to reviewing Adam McDaniel’s HEAVEN SPENT.) There he is forced into hard labor, where he and his fellow Damned mindlessly shovel Satan-knows-what into Satan-knows-where – slaves who, with each passing day, risk losing more and more of their former identities until they can’t remember who they were, or how or why they got there. This is the ultimate prison camp.

It’s also an unlikely place for a love story, but hey, if divorce can be hell, why couldn’t a courtship? While on duty Clyde falls for Mac, a young woman in the middle stages of dehumanization, still with the vague notion of who she is, but little memory of her former life.

Much of HELL FOR LOVERS is literally set in the depths of hell, and to say that Schultz’s depiction has scope is a serious understatement. Hell is big – huge! – and, understandably, Schultz relies on the common vision sprung from Western Pop Culture, with cloven-tailed red demons, walls and oceans of fire, writhing bodies piled high, etc. etc…

But while these scenes in hell, and there are many, are treated with suitable tongue-and-cheek humor, they also present an unavoidable problem. Hell becomes really, really tiresome.

Schultz, for her part, does her best to keep things light. It’s a comedy, after all, and a playful, broad comedy at that. But setting most of your script in such a world is a pretty daunting, exhausting challenge to ask of a moviegoer.

(Not to mention the production! What a challenge this would be to a production designer or, worse, a location scout! How the heck could you actually film this? CGI or no, you’d be looking at a budget well north of $100 million… And who would do the catering?)

The only other film I can think of that is almost completely set in a fantastic afterlife is WHAT DREAMS MAY COME…a movie that, while thoughtful and gorgeous, was also so overwhelming and bogged down with its own self-importance that its grandiose special effects became more of a burden than a blessing. And that movie was primarily set in heaven.

If HELL FOR LOVERS was a children’s cartoon, hell would be painted exactly the way we’d expect it to be. That’s precisely the problem. It doesn’t offer anything new, and while it’s big and grand and epic, it’s lacking in imagination and originality. (Think of how hell appeared in, say, JACOB'S LADDER. If you've seen it, you almost assuredly remember the scene I'm talking about.)

It’s not until Clyde and Mac escape from hell that the script really picks things up again, and Schultz’s writing returns to form. Leaping their spirits into strangers’ bodies (like Patrick Swayze did so well in GHOST), the two fight to unravel a conspiracy (Satan and his minions are fudging their paperwork to enslave innocent souls) and learn the truth about why they were damned in the first place (Heavenly angels aren’t that much help), all the while being pursued by demons through the streets of New York.

This script is…pretty out there, and Schultz dedicates far too much time on demons bantering and bickering at each other, instead of her (much) more engaging lead characters. But it’s all in the name of big, goofy, silly schtick, and HELL FOR LOVERS, though not perfect, is still rousing, engaging fun.

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