Combat and Hollywood: Part Two

Guns don’t kill people, scriptwriters do…

But only when it suits the narrative. I suppose, to preface a light-hearted post, I should start with an unequivocal statement: The purpose of a gun is to kill. Whether or not it is used to do so, does not matter. A gun, like the atom bomb, is a weapon with a purpose. Said purpose: cessation of life. Let’s not quibble. I had an online discussion with someone (an American) who said guns were deterrents. They’re not. Deterrents, in the classical sense, don’t work. Nukes work. But only because (a) they’re wielded by governments who understand the consequences, and (b) they’re a tad more murderous than a 9mm Glock. And consider this: if a terrorist organisation ever gets its tiny creepy hands on a nuke, the deterrent argument will become moot. Just watch, or don’t. I will win the debate, right before I’m welded to my PVC chair. Enough depression, let’s get on with the fun stuff. But first, a beautiful unicorn to make you feel better…   

If this doesn’t reset your happy trigger, nothing will.

But guns do kill people, you say. I know so because I’ve seen it on TV, or that film with the guy that shoots folks till they’re dead. Well, I reply, go back and watch that show. Now, I freely admit I am not the first person to make an issue out of this, and I won’t be the last. But I want to tackle it with the derision and ridicule it deserves. Though, I need a copyright-free example to do it. Time to create a hero. World, meet Lexi Bamharder; a cop whose attitude is as bad as her taste in men. You know the stereotype. She’s mysteriously attracted to high-strung men on the verge of divorce. They’re always going to leave their wives, they’ve promised. But Lexi always gets stung. It’s driven her to drinking neat bourbon at a bar with no other patrons apart from the old guy, we’ll call him… Old Guy. And it’s a weird set-up. She never pays, Old Guy’s always there, and the bartender has a shotgun and a heart of gold. How the place turns a profit, only methanol Jesus knows.

That Old Guy. Every bar needs one. (The Wedding Singer, 1998, New Line Cinema)

But Lexi knows. It’s run by crooks and the bar guy’s let slip they have his family. Oh noes! Again. Lucky for us, Detective Bamharder knows where to go. She finishes her bourbon (her fifth) and jumps in her car. Normally we could dissect the inherent sexism of what car she drives, however, that’s not important. Lexi’s just downed five bourbons and she’s ignition deep in engine rumble. Someone call a cop. No, wait, she is a frickin’ cop. The hero of the story. What the hell? Hollywood blows, really. Anyway, back on track, unlike Lexi, who’d be sucking dashboard in a ditch in real life.

Lexi evades every cop in a city of ten million people, her erratic driving never having once gotten her pulled over. Did I mention—she’s white? We could change that and the film would end here. That’s another story, one I’m not qualified, or brave enough, to write. But cut to the…erm chase. She’s pulled over at the Casino. The lieutenant of the Mascarpone crime family is inside: Toblerone Sureshot. Yup, he’s deadly with a hand-cannon. His favoured weapon is the Desert Eagle. Just like his name, it’s slightly triangular. He’s also not a moron. His hired guns are notorious. Earlier on you’ve seen them shoot a top lawyer in a drive by. One shot, straight through the temple. At twenty yards. But things are about to change. The scriptwriters haven’t got a clue how to make this work. In a panic they revert to type. Guns no longer kill people, stupidity does…

Her car is now clearly parked in the Casino grounds. Somehow Lexi makes it to an unguarded fire escape. Climbing inside, she pulls out her piece. Definitely not a revolver—that’s a man cannon. Bamharder owns a svelte automatic. It smells of peaches and cream. Probably. Inching down the corridor, she confronts her first two villains. They open fire, just pistols for now. Take note, Lexi’s in a corridor. That’s a geometric space with a field of view as wide as a cow. Not, notably, the proverbial barn door. Bad guys 1 & 2 fire off several rounds each. Fortune smiles on Lexi as the FX guys have already popped exploding caps into enough woodwork to carpet a forest. Besides, she’s skilled in leaning slightly into a closed door. I mean, we can see her, Hollywood insisted she has a large bust. She’s totally visible. But those bullets just don’t work. Lexi’s turn; Bam! Bam! She always ‘bams’ harder.

Doors. Incredibly good at mesmerising bullets. (The Way of the Gun, 2000, Artisan Entertainment)

Next up, the casino floor. No more pistols. SMG’s abound. Possibly some machine pistols. Maybe a rifle or two. There are a dozen guys. All hired because they presumably have experience in killing people. But today’s not their day. As bullets drop like shiny metal rain, Lexi moves from bandit to bandit. For sure, one round will hit the jackpot and you can giggle as the cash pours out. It’s actually a metaphor for Hollywood. Shoot enough crap and one day it’ll make money. To hell with art. On the balcony she’s getting flanked. One goon leans over, stops, gives Lexi enough time to look, puff her glossy (non-alcoholic) hair from her face and squeeze off two rounds. Rather than obey physics and crumple in a heap, where he could have waited for medical assistance, he takes great pains to vault over the railing. A four-foot railing. A six-foot man. How does that work? Even when I’m not being shot by a drunken cop, I know which side of a railing to fall on. Seriously, where’s he going? What’s out of camera view? A pool of morphine? Maybe he saw Willy Wonka’s last golden ticket.

One by one the goons fall. Lexi takes cover behind the machines, an upturned roulette table, a plastic cactus, and a clear window. Nothing hits. Not even a fleck of shrapnel. Now of course, in some films and shows they do take a hit. But is it ever serious? No. They never get popped in the eye, ear, or face, and damned if any major blood vessels get hit. Always somewhere medics call ‘sexy superficial’. Where scars look cool.

It’s nearing the end of the gunfight, Lexi ascends the stairs, her outfit pristine. Now, of note, if this was a fistfight between two women, clothes would be gone. But gunfights have their own rules, and those rules are: they’re more effective than dry-cleaning at keeping denims fresh. Because Lexi still looks hot in those jeans. Me, I’d have wet myself by now. Powering to the final door, she goes in, where Toblerone Sureshot awaits. He could shoot her as she comes in. But Sureshot doesn’t kill like that. Except he does, he’s a cold-blooded executioner that never misses. Oh dear. Today’s going to be a first. Cue obligatory speeches about morality, where we’re forced to side with a drink-driving murderer who didn’t read the Miranda Rights to a single soul. Whatever, we forget why Lexi came here, assume the family is safe in a freezer truck, eating their way through frozen falafel. In that room though, where Lexi faces Toblerone, you know what happens. The outcome was inevitable the minute she downed her bourbon. Inebriated, hard-drinking, tough cops kill. Everyone. Farewell, Sureshot, today your luck ran out, today, you were created by a scriptwriter.

Combat and Hollywood: Part One

One at a time please (the enigma of group combat)

True, there are rare occasions where carnage ensues in a grand melee. But there is an unspoken rule of film etiquette that all ‘barnies’ are settled with decorum and civility. In essence, this is an extension of Lazy Writing.

Picture the scene. No, don’t bother. Pictures misrepresent the emotional and tumultuous aspect of a brawler’s mind. As Atticus Finch said, you’ve got to wear someone’s shoes to get a feeling for who they are. So, step into the shoes of the antagonist, one of twelve. They’ve encircled the hero. Let’s call him (or her, or them) Jackson Hammerstrike, the meanest PI in Sewer City. Jackson’s a legend. All the crime bosses know of their antics. (Strangely, none had thought to assassinate them with a sniper rifle, or a car bomb, or poison). Anyway, Jackson’s the centre dot of a clockface and every hour mark is a leering psycho waiting to rip out some guts. You know the ensemble. There’s the big bald guy, built like a Bentley, IQ of an Oxo cube. There’s almost definitely a token oriental. There shouldn’t be. That guy from Kyoto should be a maniac on Nintendo, not knives. Give us a break Hollywood. There’s maybe a chick. One of two moulds. Horrifically stereotyped; manly and butch, or super-sexy and oozing duvet appeal. And you know at some point hers and Jackson’s eyes will meet in a pointless moment of ‘will they, won’t they?’ – NO! They won’t. He’s going to kill her; Jackson’s a problem drinker and unadulterated mass-murderer. But it’s fine, It’s Hollywood.

John Wick gets a free ride; don’t diss Keanu – They killed his dog, man! (John Wick, Summit Entertainment, 2014)

I’ll fast forward. It’s necessary to point out the absolute nonsense of the scene. In the next five minutes of (admittedly comical) fight choreography, someone will throw something at the hero. Hell, it might stick. A hefty pole will be wielded. Again, it will likely make a comedy ‘boing’ sound as it hits Jackson. But Jackson won’t stay down. Ding, ding, round two. Point is, none of these actions will happen until an obscene amount of fist-waving and foot-flailing has taken place. You know the sounds. Go get a steak from the freezer. Defrost it, half way. Start punching it. That’s a good noise right there. That’s knuckles humping face meat. Of course, you won’t hear Jackson scream as the metacarpals shatter under the relentless grind of baddie beating.

Ouchies (courtesy

Now, all these seasoned serial killers and professional hard-guys know the score. Jackson’s tough as a squirrel’s nuts. So, they’ve got their guy surrounded. All they need to do is advance, close the space, and BLAM! Jackson’s heroics end under a barrage of nastiness not seen since Westlife covered Manilow’s Mandy. So, they win, right? No, they don’t. Why? Because Hollywood dictates one simple mantra: Bad guys queue.        

Squirrel Nuts. Don’t be offended. Nature is beautiful, or not.

And so follows a scene of predictable, meat-slapping nonsense. Strangely, it will also mimic the abstract progression of a PC game. You know, the weakest fighter attacks first. Their mode of attack is universal: an overhand slice with a kitchen knife or a tyre iron. Jackson either catches the weapon and knocks opponent #1 out, or, sidesteps and sends them into a convenient pile of clattering objects. The scenario will dictate whether it’s an improbable display of canned beans, or a pile of scrap metal. Either way, it will be noisy.  And silly. You need some comedy to lighten up death.

We can give Hollywood plaudits for one thing. Whether Jackson is a man or a woman, their top will be ripped off. Cue rippling abs and either (A) well-defined pecs, usually clean shaven, or (B) a sports-bra Jackson bought at fifteen, now positively oozing flesh. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t date either of these narcissistic maniacs. You would? Weirdo.

Bet your bottom dollar, this shirt’s coming off. (The Transporter, Canal+, 2002)

Cue the final battle. It is Donkey Kong. This guy is the same, or a bigger version of Bentley-Oxo (let’s call them BO). Jackson throws a punch. BO grins. I imagine it’s because after so much punching, Jackson’s hand is a jelly mould of pain. Any bone they once had has turned to dust, floating in a puffy fist-sack of blood and apathy. BO grabs Jackson and throws them across the room. Choose your target: another pile of cans, or more scrap metal. Our hero recovers (do they have to?) and thus begins the five-minute boss-battle. That guy from Kyoto would kick ass here. This is console heaven, a Tekken-esque fight of supreme silliness. Toward the end, both combatants are weary. To bring in science, this is probably a lactic acid build up. After five minutes of fighting, a heart-pounding activity, the system can’t keep up with demand. Lactic builds up, limbs feel heavy. There’s no respite. Adrenaline won’t work, it’s already been spent. Only rest can solve this dilemma. Rest and carbs. But Jackson doesn’t need science. He’s a figment of some nerdy dream. He starts to slug faster and faster. Hitting BO enough times in the face to make pumpkin soup. But it’s not enough to knock him out. This is end of level bad guy. Hollywood requires stupidity. Searching for the options: a chain, a spike embedded in the ground (who risk assessed this room?), a hook on a wall—Jackson finds his mark. There’s an open electrical box that’s clearly failed its annual safety inspection. With a leaping, flying roundhouse, Jackson shows Atticus Finch what shoes are for. His size tens plough into BO’s braindead face, sending him into a lightshow that goes on long enough to imply the fuses are redundant and the place had no RCB’s installed.  

Jackson wins. Quips something cool. Hollywood rubs its hands. The main casualty (apart from your brain) is the owner of the place where the fight happened. Several dead bodies and enough health and safety breaches to bring down Jupiter. Yeah. Maybe I’ll write a real-life version of that fight. That’d be cool… and short. Chop chop, Jackson—times up.

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