Please Streamline

Profile: Latest film from writer/director David Mamet, who again studies human behavior through the prism of crime, offered to a public who again stays away in droves. Think House of Games meets The Spanish Prisoner meets Things Change meets No They Don't.

Symptoms: If you think I'm going to tell David Mamet, who wrote and directed the aforementioned, how to write anything, you're out of your friggin' mind. I mean, like all physicians selected by the Almighty, I do have a bit of a raging God complex, but I'm not crazy. I love Mamet films—Things Change remains a personal desert-island selection—but few people go see them. Heist was supposed to be his breakout hit, filled with big stars (Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito), an accessible plot (big money robbery), and plenty of violence and cursing. But like other Mamet-directed efforts, it floundered at the box office, opening fifth behind The One, starring motorcycle-toting Jet Li, and the latest John Travolta dreck. Perhaps the problem is that Heist, like other Mamet films, has characters and a plot churning in constant flux. Watching a Mamet film doesn't mean waiting for the other shoe to drop but for Imelda Marcos to come through the ceiling. A Mamet audience member must be fully engaged, noting every sideways glance and inappropriate grin because Mamet's not only playing the characters but you, too. But American audiences don't generally like to be engaged and prefer their plots resolved within a more straightforward, classic structure, say, by having someone cudgeled with a motorcycle.

Script Doctor Diagnosis: As Thoreau said, “Simplify, simplify. . . . And if that don't go, commence to pounding ass by means of mechanized bi-wheeliotrope.” Prescription: Mamet does write movies that people see. The Verdict, The Untouchables and Wag the Dog all featured a twist or two but were much more linear in their storytelling. It seems when he's writing for someone else, Mamet is forced to streamline. Perhaps he should learn from that. Fewer twists and turns allow the audience to get more comfortable with the characters and the plot. As it stands now, an audience never knows where it stands with either, because you're never quite sure who or what to believe. Now, I still think there's a place Mamet can do these kinds of movies. It's called HBO. A short series, say half a dozen or 10 episodes, would allow him the time to develop characters, plot and the requisite twists in a more natural rhythm instead of having to compact all of it in an hour and a half so that some audience members feel bombarded. Of course, I have no problems with it. I mean, as one of the Almighty's Chosen, I recognize the lot of you are duplicitous chiggers who'd commit Suzuki-cide upon my person if given the chance. Good luck. Suckers.

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