Script-O-Meter rating: 2
This is an Action/Thriller that does not deliver because the script writer decided to trick/cheat the audience.
Now why do I not want to be tricked/cheated? Because that is a sign of just plain bad writing. Also, it is an indication that the writer thinks the audience is stupid and therefore, the writer thinks he can shortcut the plot by doing the following:
1. Characters behave without believable motivations
2. Sequences are simply cut out.
3. Top billing is given to a character who has 1.5 minutes of dialogue.
4. The story line of the character who should be getting top billing is cut.
5. A deux ex machina, or totally unbelievable ending is tacked on.
It’s as if the ending fell from the sky. The Greeks may have gotten away with this type of ending, but good writing today needs to be honest. There needs to be a set-up in earlier sequencing which leads naturally to that audience aha moment. An ending with a twist is good, but the ending should not come from the sky.
In Bus 657, the Opponent, Mr. Pope, predictably played by DeNiro, is a lethal killer, whose ego is wrapped up in a gambling casino showboat. He has groomed an assistant to replace him as his health is failing. Since he has a penchant for cigarettes, we are led to believe that he has some type of terminal cancer that is tied to smoking.
Sequence 1 shows us immediately what Pope’s Ordinary World looks like.
“Show, don’t tell” is done well. Not much dialogue is needed. Pope’s assistant has learned his lessons well. Pope can count on him to be unforgiving and lethal. But we are also shown, not told, that a loyal employee with a tragic and urgent problem with his daughter possibly dying- does not move Pope one iota. Again, his assistant learns yet another lesson about lack of conscience and ruthless efficiency even with loyal employees.
But Pope can turn on his own people in a heart beat! The assistant needs to be a walking assassin to be in his boss’s good graces.
From this sequence, comes the set-up for why the Hero will commit a crime to rob Pope for money he needs for his dying daughter.
Predictable coincidence: Someone approaches The Hero with a scheme to rob Pope.
The Hero is at his wits end. Many people are at their wits end.
Why is the Hero suddenly stupid to align himself with men he doesn’t trust?
Why doesn’t the Hero try other avenues first?
Okay. It’s action/Thriller genre. We’ll give this a pass.
The policewoman who is on duty as the Hero’s Crime goes awry: She is the fake opponent/ally character. Her actions lead her to believe the Hero is really not a psycho like his partners. She begins an investigation. But what she finds is eliminated from the plot. Her sub-plot of helping the Hero get what he Desires has either been edited out or was never completed.
A mole in the police department: Not exactly original. But okay if it’s dealt with as part of the Desire line of the Hero. It is not. When the Hero gets the Reveal about the mole, he does not share that Reveal with the fake opponent/ally. If he did, she would continue her investigation which would tie in with the Hero’s Desire line. But as I mentioned, her Story Line is dropped.
The key to the Hero carrying through with his Desire is withheld from the audience. There is no set up. It is revealed to the audience in flashback. A character who was not presented with even one line of dialogue or action is the key, which leads to the deux ex machina ending.
Mr. Pope has 1.5 minutes of action and dialogue with the key to his final unraveling. This character is his daughter, played by Kate Bosworth. This actress gets top billing. STRANGE. She pontificates at this meeting and gives the audience, whom the writer thinks is too stupid to know on their own, the moral structure of this plot. The catchword is sacrifice. Pope doesn’t know the meaning of this word.
But after she exits, we wonder what sacrifice has to do with this plot if we know from Sequence 1 that a father will sacrifice. It does not a story make. There is no mystery here other than how he will make that sacrifice. No conflict because the Hero doesn’t struggle with psychological flaws.
The Hero has a wife, who sits in the hospital, but she could have been the Hero’s point of view character. Through the wife, we could get into the emotional struggles of the Hero. She doesn’t have a word of dialogue. She is merely a figure with a concerned look on her face. A wasted opportunity for an ally who could support and or challenge the Hero regarding his moral choice to hook up with the criminals.
The Hero is willing to sacrifice his life to save his daughter from the get go. This is not a quandary for him. At the end, he is still willing to sacrifice. Where is his character arc? Was he wrong to commit the crime? Well, no. Never mind that innocent people on the highjacked bus could have gotten killed. The people on the bus are largely ignored, except for a veterinarian and an Asian student and a guy with a knife. They are figures only. They have no Self-Revelations.
Now, Mr. Pope. He suddenly develops a conscience. But the action is not believable. His assistant remains evil. No growth here. But the set up for Mr.Pope’s growth moment is not believable. It’s DeNiro’s usual tired, whiny but gruff acting when he’s at his last straw moment. The ultimate moral epiphany should have gone to the Hero. But we already know his “choice” – It was the Hero in his Ordinary World, ready to sacrifice for his sick child. What did go to the Hero was the knowledge that his magic trick worked and the daughter was saved. The audience was tricked as well.
The film was only 87 minutes long. Usually, a feature is 110 minutes long. Because there was no sequence 10, 11, or 12, but rather a hasty wrap up using flashback to reveal the magic trick, the characters had no believable growth.
The film wrapped in 2015. But it was not distributed until 2017. DeNiro sold this script because of star quality name recognition. But a lot was missing. Too bad.