So the news is that, over the weekend, I got a call from my agent from his ranch in Montana. “You got the gig,” he said. “Ronnie and Brian read the logline and flipped out: ‘Three Days of the Condor meets The Jerk.’ Sheer genius. Now get to work.” That’s the way good news come these days out here in Hollywood, the land of the instant yes and the interminable no. But when your subject is the CIA versus the Speaker of the House, well — some scripts just write themselves.
As is well known, thrillers are back. Now that the so-called “War on Terror” is officially over, we’re going to close the human-rights atrocity known as Gitmo, and it’s soon going to be payback time for the neo-con lickspittle lawyers who authorized such brutal “enhanced interrogation techniques” as speaking sternly to the holy warriors, we screenwriters have begun to breathe easier. You see, during the evil &*^&BUSH*&^! administration the studios were too afraid that an action picture featuring, you know, “Muslim terrorists” might provoke some enhanced film criticism and so we dug out everybody’s favorite all-purpose villains, neo-Nazi white supremacist Sarah Palin relatives, and did the best we could.
But now . . . well, we still can’t sell scripts about “Muslim terrorists,” but a celebrity death match between the Central Intelligence Agency and the person who stands second to the vice president in the line of succession to the White House should any, you know, unfortunate accident befall the leader of the free world, is right up our alley. Which is why I was first off the mark last week when Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi, the flower of Baltimore and the pride of San Francisco, accidentally pulled the pin on a live hand grenade in front of the fiercely independent Washington press corps and blew herself up.
She wasn’t trying to, of course. She was trying to explain to a bunch of less-than-enchanted media stenographers who would rather be covering Michelle Obama’s workout, or even Bo the dog’s breakfast, that the nasty, un-American CIA has deliberately “misled” her when discussing just precisely how they were going to insert bamboo shoots under the fingernails of a caterpillar that they would then waterboard and introduce into the cell of some totally innocent mujahedin caught up in the lawless Bush-Cheney dragnet during the hysteria that followed the inside job that was 9/11 and . . .
In the other corner we have the Central Intelligence Agency, which we in Tinseltown have been depicting for years as just about the most malevolent organization in the world, outside of the Catholic Church, the Club for Growth, and the Cheney family. In movie after movie, the shadowy CIA guy always wound up as the villain in the last reel. So imagine our surprise when, during the Bushitler interregnum, we discovered that the CIA is on our side, and has been for decades! Screwed up the whole Shah of Iran thing and opened the way for the mullahs? Check! Consistently overrated and then failed to forecast the sudden disintegration of the Soviet Union? Check!! Never did quite figure out what Osama bin Laden was up to? Check!!!
To top it all off, along came super-top-secret agent/Vanity Fair babe Valerie Plame and her dashing, Graydon-Carter-tressed hubby, Joe Wilson, running a sting operation against the hapless Bush White House, whipsawing the president and the veep with Joe’s unprovoked New York Times tale of sipping mint tea with Colonel Kurtz up the Congo and all of sudden there’s shouting about the “sixteen words” in Chimpy’s State of the Union address and Valerie is outed by Cheney flunky Scooter Libby — okay, by Colin Powell flunky Dick Armitage, same thing — and then Judy Miller goes to jail and . . .
You get the picture: In this duel of People We Like, we somehow want them both to lose. And that’s where I come in. So here’s the script that just made me a cool $1.5 mil plus five monkey points plus two first-class tickets to the premiere: Three Days of the Dodo Bird.
We open in Abu Ghraib prison, post-“Mission Accomplished,” where a SHADOWY CIA AGENT gets the bright idea to strike fear into the hearts of America’s “enemies” by photographing completely innocent prisoners in outrageous situations (piled naked on top of each other, led around on a dog leash by a woman, forced to wear panties on their heads) calculated to offend and inflame the sensibilities of the Religion of Peace. Now, you and I both know that these kinds of things happen every week at the right Hollywood parties, and they’re tons of fun, but for some weird cultural reason the photos are deemed offensive, the super-top-secret psy-war campaign winds up on the front page of the Times every day for a year, and the Shi’ites hit the fan.
We flash back to BALTIMORE, MD in 1954, where we meet the 14-year-old NANCY D’ALESANDRO, the daughter of Tommy, Jr., (Old Tommy) and Annunciata (Nancy) D’Alesandro, and sister of Tommy III (Young Tommy), both former mayors of Baltimore — yes, that Baltimore, one of the most corrupt cities in the country, where city and county officials are routinely frog-marched off to jail. Young Nancy gets a rude introduction to the unfairness of life when, as Old Tommy is about to run for governor — oh, let’s let Time magazine pick up the story:
The whirlwind next struck at Tommy’s parking garages and in a few gusts forced him to quit the gubernatorial race. A contractor named Dominic Piracci, who seemed to have a corner on the city’s garage-building business, was convicted of fraud, conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Piracci and Tommy had long been friends, even before Piracci’s daughter, Margie, married Tommy D’Alesandro III.
Piracci had erased some names from his ledgers. Among the names deleted: Nancy D’Alesandro. On the witness stand in Piracci’s trial, Nancy admitted getting six checks totaling $11,130.78 from Piracci. But she swore that $1,500 of it was a gift to their newly wed children, Tommy III and Margie. The rest, she claimed, Piracci lent her to pay off debts incurred in her feed business and a venture with a skin softener called Velvex.
It’s not easy for Nancy to see her dad’s gubernatorial hopes go up in a puff of cement-mixer dust, nor to see her mom’s skin-softener business crash and burn. Like an Italian Scarlett O’Hara, she steps into the simple back yard of her parents’ Baltimore row house in Little Italy and shouts to the heavens: “I’ll never be poor again. I’ll never be indicted. I’ll be the best advertisement for Botox who ever lived. And I’ll rip the lungs out of anybody what says different — that means you, Steny Hoyer!”
A resentful, ambitious, and unfortunately not very bright clone of Connie Corleone, Nancy grows up, marries a guy named Pelosi from Frisco, becomes a multi-millionaireness and, miraculously, the Speaker of the House, before falling afoul of the CIA when she blows the whistle on their lies and disinformation and accuses them of lying to Congress.
Naturally, the CIA fights back and while I’m not using the tired old device of a horse’s head in her Pacific Heights bed, let’s just say that following her press conference, certain documents appear in her mailbox having to do with — I don’t know, I’m just making it up here — her family, her business dealings, and her entire way of life.
The evil CIA agent who’s on her case will remain unidentified until the very end of our movie, although throughout the picture, I’m dropping hints and red herrings. Who is the sinister figure behind the screen with the voice modulator, peddling torture disinformation to our Nancy? Who is the evil genius who commandeers Air Force One for a joyride over lower Manhattan and then retains all but one of the photos, just in case a photo of the president’s plane triumphantly flying over the ruins of the World Trade Center “accidentally” needs to get leaked before he makes his address to all 57 states of the Muslim world from Mohammed Atta’s home town of Cairo? Who is the Vulcan mind-melder who forces brave Nancy to go public with her explosive allegations, thus leading to her tragic press-conference self-immolation and cries for her resignation?
That’s right: It’s Liz Cheney. Or maybe Carrie Prejean. Or maybe even Darth Cheney himself; I haven’t decided yet. You’ll find out in a year or two.
Of course, if I really want a surprise ending, the villain will turn out to be . . . the president of the United States! Not even David Baldacci can make this stuff up.
– David Kahane’s favorite movies are The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The Parallax View, The Conversation and Mary Poppins. You can add to his Netflix list at [email protected], or become his friend on Facebook.