You think being a screenwriter is easy? It’s hard coming up with new ideas, new takes on old ideas, or even old takes on old ideas disguised as “remakes.“ It’s even harder staggering out of bed on Saturday morning, logging on to boxofficemojo.com or Drudge to read the projections of the weekend’s grosses, and then coming up with something topical you can hopefully blow by a 24-year-old studio exec whose favorite films of all time are The Little Mermaid and Saw.
Hollywood today prizes originality that’s not too original, gross-out humor you don’t have to think about (just see any Will Farrell movie), and brave and daring thrillers in which the villain turns out to be either the CIA (this was before Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame made us realize what selfless patriots Agency operatives really are, who knew?) or the president of the United States.
This weekend, Shooter turned out to be firing blanks, the Ninja Turtles were down 70 percent from their first week, Adam Sandler’s picture is a dud, and those pesky 300 Spartans have slaughtered their way to $180 million in four weeks. Maybe it’s time for a throwback to a classic American good-vs.-evil political thriller.
So what I’m pitching this week is a black comedy I‘m calling All the President’s Cronies.
An idiot-savant (think Peter Sellers as Chance the Gardener in Being There) is taken in hand by a cabal of CIA spooks — strike that, let’s make it Defense Intelligence Agency fascists — and guided to his party’s nomination for president. Thanks to their cunning machinations and brazen election-stealing, he narrowly defeats the sitting vice president and is propelled into the White House.
Now it just so happens that this simpleton is… wait for it… the son of a former president of the United States, who pays off his dad by hiring senile retreads from Papa’s administration and surrounding himself with yes-persons, one of whom he even nominates to the Supreme Court! Another one becomes attorney general. A third… well, I haven’t worked that part out yet, but it will have to be equally unbelievable, like secretary of State.
In the face of this quasi-legal coup d’etat, the country is plunged into darkness. The Constitution is suspended. The sacred institution of gay marriage is proscribed and a supine SCOTUS refuses to hear the case. Rivers and streams reek with the effluent of untreated atomic sewage. Women are fired as corporate CEOs and Episcopalian bishops, deprived of their shoes and forced into unwanted pregnancies while attending mandatory cooking classes. Prisons and reeducation camps bulge with professors at MIT and Cal Berkeley.
Luckily, a hardy band of brave survivalists — lawyers, newspaper publishers, movie moguls — mount a rearguard action to save the country. Operating from their obscure hideouts on the Upper West Side, Beacon Hill, Georgetown, the Gold Coast, Queen Anne Hill, Pacific Palisades, and the entire state of Minnesota, living from dinner party to dinner party, and taking sanctuary in liberal think tanks everywhere, they realize that America’s only salvation lies in the elimination of the Electoral College; repeal of the crypto-fascist elements of the Bill of Rights, including the Second and Tenth amendments; and the forging of swords into plowshares through green technology. Which basically amounts to letting them rust.
Slowly at first, and then with increasingly boldness, they launch of series of strikes on the usurper. Samizdat publications like the New York Times publish “classified” information to turn public opinion against his unprovoked foreign adventures. Within the bowels of the government itself, unpurged patriots conduct a guerilla war, frustrating his policy initiatives, holding up appointments, and writing tax law, all the while awaiting their day of deliverance…
Which finally comes when a charismatic half-African-African-American Muslim-Christian-fusion senator with roots in the Midwest and Honolulu — I’m just spitballing here now, but we get the idea that this guy is clean, articulate, and numinous — accepts the mantle of responsibility. Women faint at the sight of him, men go weak in the knees with envy, and babies smile. Across this once-great land of ours, ordinary people from La Jolla to Park Slope scream that they’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take this any more.
As the blows reign down in Washington, the cronies grin and smile and bleat meekly; they’re impotent in the face of our hero’s absolute moral authority. At last, the president is revealed to be the Wizard of Oz once the curtain is pulled away by Toto, the White House nothing more than a Potemkin village. The revolutionaries impeach the gibbering chimp in the Oval Office, outlaw his political party, dismantle the Army, scatter the military-industrial complex to the four winds, and cede whole portions of the country back to their original owners, including the Mexicans, the Russians, and the French.
Our last shot is of a peaceful America, its moral compass restored, as seen from outer space at night. And here’s the best part — since electricity has been banned and gasoline-powered vehicles made illegal, the screen is entirely dark.
Roll credits and start working on the Oscar acceptance speech. I’m thinking Greg Kinnear as the low-IQ tyrant, Christopher Plummer as his father, and Denzel Washington as the liberator, but we can talk about it.
Just as long as the movie comes out in October of 2008.