The Crop: The Dirty Dozen
The Studio: Warner Brothers
The Director: ?
The Producers: Joel Silver
The Writer: Scott Rosenberg, Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum
The Actors: None attached.
The Premise: The journalist daughter of a supermarket magnate gets kidnapped in Pakistan by a band of bloodthirsty terrorists. After a failed Navy Seal rescue ups the time table on the daughter’s execution, the magnate uses his suck with the POTUS to commission an off-the-books suicide operation led by an old military buddy, who’ll have to train and control twelve very bad men.
The Script: Let’s hand it over to the late John Huston. "There is a willful, lemming-like persistence in remaking past successes time after time. They can’t make them as good as they are in our memories, but they go on doing them and each time it’s a disaster. Why don’t we remake some of our bad pictures… and make them good?"
On the off-chance you consider Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen a bad movie (in which case, what kind of man are you? – and this goes double for the ladies), well, here’s your Joel Silver-approved, Scott Rosenberg-scripted remake that mistakes "smartass" for "smart" and ups the sentimentality to an alarming degree. For everyone else… I sure hope you liked Con Air.
At the risk of being pilloried, I’m going to admit a certain fondness for Con Air; the movie promised loads of action and loads of stupidity, and delivered sensationally on both counts. But handing off the remake of the classic "Men on a Mission" movie to the guy who wrote the most disposable retread of said classic ranks right up there with "Y’know, audiences liked Audrey Hepburn, but they’re gonna love Julia Ormond!". And just how does Rosenberg compare to his predecessors? Well, Nunnally Johnson adapted The Grapes of Wrath for John Ford, Lukas Heller wrote Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlote for Aldrich, while Rosenberg followed up the charming Beautiful Girls by writing a ton of for-hire crap.
Teaming with his October Road cohorts Nemec and Applebaum (veterans of the Alias writing staff), Rosenberg hasn’t reversed this trend. In fact, I’d be willing to consider The Dirty Dozen the nadir of his studio paycheck cashing output, but my faith in humanity prohibits me from conceiving of an act more heinous than co-writing Kangaroo Jack with a multimillionaire scumbag like Steven Bing. Come to think of it, this capacity for evil might actually explain how the most endearing character in Rosenberg’s Dirty Dozen script is a racist sentenced to death for burning a Baptist church to the ground and killing four children in the process (a number you really ought not to invoke given this detestable bit of history). Just what the hell happened to the good-hearted dude who wrote Beautiful Girls?
The screenplay kicks off in Pakistan, introducing us to the compassionate, twenty-two-year-old journalist Callie Peck, who, after a brief character intro, gets kidnapped from a U.N. transport by a radical group called The Sword of Crescent. Callie’s freedom is contingent on the release of forty-seven Guantanamo Bay detainees – a deal the current U.S. President (overtly written for Jim Brown) refuses to make even though she happens to be the daughter of supermarket magnate and big-time campaign contributor, Douglas Peck. When an elite Navy SEAL unit fails to extract Callie from the terrorist organization’s stronghold (thus prompting the indignant terrorists to move up her date of execution), the President is forced to put Peck, a shitkicking ex-military man himself, in contact with a disreputable former Delta Force lieutenant, who suggests a little known course of action called "Operation Charon" – i.e. the assembling of highly-skilled military prisoners for a veritable suicide mission. (The familiarity with this fictional operation is meant to signal that this is more of a sequel than a remake. What an honor.) The upshot for the prisoners is that, in return for their service (provided they survive), their sentences will be commuted. Peck, short on options and time, consents to this, but requests the liberty of selecting the team leader.
Peck’s man is Tom Callahan, an old military buddy currently drowning his middle-aged sorrows in booze. Peck tracks Callahan down at a rough biker bar – which gives Team Rosenberg the opportunity to trot out the obligatory scene revealing Callahan’s devastating facility for hand-to-hand combat – and incentivizes his pal by calling up some ambiguous past history that will surely get cleared up before the end of Act II (hint: as much as Callahan laments his broken down physical and mental state, there’s something about that Callie. It’s as if she’s his daughter or something. "Callahan"… "Callie"… so very strange.) Once Callahan agrees, he’s transported to Collinsworth Prison, where he selects the baddest of the bad for this impossible search-and-rescue mission. Cue the introduction sequence, which the script implores "should play as something of a filmic triptych, with great velocity, energy and elliptical brevity". Unlike Jim Brown, they don’t recommend Simon West by name as a potential director, but they might as well.
Now, let’s meet our convicts!
1. Logan "Doc Awful" Uffland. Field Medic. Sentenced to death for slicing a man to death with a scalpel (he happened to be screwing the Doc’s old lady at the time.)
2. Privates First Class Hector and Gasper Calvo aka "The Bullseye Brothers". Sniper combo. Each serving a thirty-year sentence for carousing with prostitutes in lieu of assassinating a Bosnian politician who subsequently committed Milosevic-like atrocities on his own people.
3. Dennis J. Sobel aka "Dennis the Detonator. Munitions. Serving twenty for using demolitions expertise to rob a Paris bank. Yawn.
4. Karl P. "Creepy Karl" Gustofson. K-9 handler. Virulent racist. Trained his charmingly monikered pooch, "Nigger Knocker", to tear the jugular out of anyone who isn’t of Aryan descent. Consigned to death row for killing seventeen in a Baptist church fire.
5. Sergeant Ellis Humphrey aka "All About Arsenic" aka "That’s the Best You Could Come Up With for Seven Figures, Scott?". Flamethrower specialist, chemist and trained chef. Fatally poisoned commanding officer for complaining about his cooking.
6. Sergeant Barnabas "Murder Man" Grady. "SEAL Team Forced-Entry Breacher". Black dude. Knocked out seven skinheads in a bar brawl, and snapped their necks while still unconscious. Dubbed "Murder Man" because he "likes to murder, man". Again, this is what seven figures buys in Hollywood.
7. Corporal Lucas "Truffles" McMullen. Minesweeper. Walked into a base hospital one fateful night and raped nine nurses. Subsequently found religion. Presumably not referred to as "Maggot" for fear that the corpse of Telly Savalas will bust through his coffin in Forest Park Memorial and rape Rosenberg nine times with a lollipop.
8. Lieutenant Jerome "Jukebox" Jones. Communications Specialist. Serving twenty for compromising his base’s defenses in order to watch the live feed of Jay-Z’s 2003 farewell performance at Madison Square Garden. Four fellow soldiers perished in a subsequent mortar raid.
9. Staff Sergeant Rudolph "Walking Fish" Starkovich. Military Game Strategist. Participated in the Abu Ghraib-style degradation of POWs, and was stupid enough to get photographed ala Lynndie England.
10. Tourak Halaak. Pakistani expatriate. Successful Club Owner. Suspected Al Qaeda sympathizer. The Naveen Andrews role.
11. Lieutenant Robert Archer. Weapons Expert. Con Artist. Sold seventeen acres of bogus holy land (i.e. sand) to a Syrian Sheik (i.e. Arab).
And Callahan makes twelve! Cast ‘em up as you see appropriate. FYI, Doc is written for an African-American, too. I say the part fits Bokeem Woodbine like an unventilated leather cat-suit.
One of the pleasures of Aldrich’s Dirty Dozen is the way Lee Marvin cleverly sells the prisoners on the mission one at a time; their training doesn’t begin until well over a half-hour into the movie. But that leisurely paced era of filmmaking is long gone, and I don’t begrudge Rosenberg and co. for eschewing this approach in the least. What does bother me, however, is the compartmentalized cuteness of the convict intros; most of the offenses are way over the top, which means the dozen will be a collection of caricatures no matter whom you cast. This is fine for Con Air, but unacceptable for a film bucking for a run time of at least 140 minutes. That’s a long time to be stranded on a mission with a bunch of cartoon ciphers guilty of rape and racially motivated murder.
Sensing this, and lacking the tools to rally the audience to the side of the convicts as Johnson, Heller and Aldrich did, the Rosenbergs dispense with the Dozen’s training in less than ten pages and parachutes them – off a plummeting plane crippled by enemy fire! – into Pakistan by page fifty-three, where the scoundrels will bond under fire (thus missing the entire point of making a "Men on a Mission" movie, but more on that in a moment). Meanwhile, the tension from here on out has little to do with the convicts’ internecine squabbling; mostly, it’s about whether they’ll desert Callahan – which won’t hold anyone’s interest, so the Rosenbergs just cram in an action set piece approximately every ten pages.
While they do kill off two of the more repugnant members of the outfit before arriving at the elaborate final assault on the terrorist’s compound (counted off step-by-step as in the original), Creepy Karl is not only spared, but given some of the script’s primo laugh lines (he’s practically the voice of conscience when they stumble onto Truffles preparing to rape a Pakistani girl). He also doesn’t catch a beating for his hate mongering like Maggot does in Aldrich’s film (though it’s not like the Rosenbergs possess the wit to pen anything as memorable as Marvin’s choice utterance: "The gentleman from the South made some kind of inquiries about the dining arrangements. He and his colleagues are discussing the place card settings now.") I’m not alleging that the Rosenbergs are racists, but the fact that they expect audiences to cheer for a guy who killed four girls in a church fire exposes a lack of sensitivity and, worse, makes a mockery of the script’s unfettered sentimentality.*
And that’s another cause for outrage. What the hell is a bunch of cockamamie, father-daughter schmaltz doing in The Dirty Dozen!?!? The Dirty Dozen is about men. It’s about free-flowing testosterone. It’s about tough love. It ain’t about chicks. (It also ain’t about hardnosed grunts referencing Möbius strips, which, swear to Bronson, happens on page seventy of this affront to manhood.) I mean, who bricks the opportunity to write their version of The Dirty Dozen – the landmark "Men on a Mission" movie that every guy makes it a point to see as soon as their balls drop – by lazily falling back on stale Simpson/Bruckheimer clichés? How do you so thoroughly blow this opportunity? I’m not saying I have a "Men on a Mission" movie on my hard drive, but if I did, you can goddamn guarantee it wouldn’t skimp on training sequences in favor of building up some sad bastard mourning the dead love of his life (especially when the big surprise of how she died is more flagrantly telegraphed than a Vinny Testaverde interception). The training is where the audience comes to sympathize with the men as underdogs (not so much as admirable human beings). The training is why you write a "Men on a Mission" screenplay. Without the training, you’ve got, once again, Con Air.
Brand-name identification makes The Dirty Dozen a lock for an eventual remake, but after what Adam Sandler did to Aldrich’s The Longest Yard, I just can’t bear to see another of the filmmaker’s male-bonding classics travestied. Do what you want to Vera Cruise, 4 for Texas or The Choirboys (by all means, please remake The Choirboys!). But you can’t half-ass The Dirty Dozen. It’s un-American.
Why It Might Be Good: Silver scraps this draft and pays out double Rosenberg’s rate to Joe and Matthew Carnahan.
Why It Should Suck: Um, see above? I’ve got to rethink the format of these reports.
What I’ll Be Rambling About Next: Maybe Paul W.S. Anderson’s Death Race, but the point of this column was really to write about stuff I’m eager to see, so most likely William Monohan’s Penetration aka Body of Lies. Or the Coens’ Burn After Reading if I can track it down.
*The payoff at the end with the dog is perhaps the biggest insult in a script that’s essentially calling your mother a whore from page one on.