The James Clayton Column: playing cards movie pitches

News James Clayton 19 Apr 2012 - 09:54

With Battleship taking its cue from a board game, James dreams up a few movie pitches inspired by a humble deck of playing cards…

What’s more surprising than the fact that a board game - namely Battleship - got made into a feature-length blockbuster movie is the fact that people are surprised that a board game got made into a movie. Is it really so jawdroppingly hard to believe? We’re talking about the movie industry here, where the weird go pro and where ‘sensible’ gets nuked in the name of showbiz.

In 1985, Tim Curry fronted a Cluedo film (Clue), so Battleship’s board-game-to-big-screen trajectory isn’t anything new. It isn’t really astounding that Hasbro - the Transformers toymakers masterminding multimedia success - got the naval strategy guessing game and pushed it through the dream factory. From humble roots as a pencil-and-paper pastime to star-studded, special effects-heavy sci-fi-action popcorn flick, it’s been quite a journey for Battleship. As a matter of fact, it’s a story that’s pure Hollywood.

This film reminds us that screenwriters and directors draw inspiration from odd places, and that the industry’s business minds are always looking for commercial opportunities to milk. Moviemakers turn toys and board games into films in spite of prevailing attitudes that these are ‘inferior’ sources to adapt from. They likewise make videogame spin-off movies. They’re also happy to base blockbuster franchises on theme park rides (The Pirates Of The Caribbean series) and make epic dramas about Facebook (The Social Network). Crazy ideas and the most preposterous notions can, indeed, produce modern classics.

Regardless of all the doubt, disbelief and ridicule, then, Battleship was built and has been released in several territories. As it starts to do box office business, thoughts undoubtedly turn to the ‘next big thing’ and interested parties start pondering on what other board games should be revamped as movies.

I’m not going to dwell on this because others have already written numerous articles and pitched potential game-based films. While everyone waits for Michael Bay to resurrect his Ouija board project and for Sir Ridley Scott to make his Monopoly movie, I’m looking to different sorts of pastime entertainments for cinematic inspiration. In my view, now that Battleship has proved you can produce a board game blockbuster, it’s time to innovate by attempting new audacious challenges and tapping different game types that have yet to experience film spin-off treatment.

Rooting around the nursery room cupboard, I find a little packet of infinite potential. I believe that in a humble deck of playing cards there’s enough material to get jaded Hollywood hacks through the next three years at least.

The pitches I’ve concocted are indubitably helped by the fact that I’m completely clueless when it comes to playing cards. I get a huge kick out of watching gambling films, having no idea what the hell is happening in all those tense, high stakes casino scenes. The moments in Casino Royale in between 007 performing defibrillation on himself? I have no idea. Paul Thomas Anderson’s early indie effort Hard Eight where Philip Seymour Hoffman starts challenging Philip Baker Hall over a Vegas craps table? I’m baffled. What’s happening with Steve McQueen and Edward G Robinson in The Cincinnati Kid? I’m drawing a blank, but damn it’s exhilarating!

You don’t need to know the rules or how to play. All you need is a brand name, some A-list actors and you have a blockbuster movie that’ll draw in the crowds. For your consideration, I believe that these films could all be aces, and that they should be greenlit before Battleship 2 surfaces...

Solitaire

Nothing to do with the Tarot woman Bond girl of Live And Let Die, this filmic tribute to the loneliest parlour pastime ever conceived is closer in spirit to Moon (Sam Rockwell alone on our lunar satellite) and Buried (Ryan Reynolds alone in a box in the desert). In the movie, Taylor Kitsch travels without moving through a heartbreaking existential odyssey where he’s left to face himself while trying to sort cards into separate suit piles. Kitsch toils through the frustrating solo challenge while being chastised by doppelgänger hallucinations that shout things like “you’re an insult to your dead relatives!” and “you’re never gonna make it back to Barsoom, jerk!”

Spider Solitaire

It’s the same as the above - possibly the sequel - except now Taylor Kitsch is taunted by a colossal arachno-monster that insists on dropping acid slime drool all over the table. Luckily, the Tharks fly in from Mars and hold back the eight-legged freak, enabling Kitsch to complete his card conundrum.

Pontoon

In a dystopian future where nuclear wars have boiled and polluted the oceans with radiation, a giant mutant cuttlefish surfaces off the Atlantic City boardwalk primed to attack. Humanity’s last hope is hotshot card shark and fish-gutting expert Jennifer Lawrence and it’s up to her and her two boyfriends to stop the mega-squid’s invasion plans (it wants to send its atomic cephalopod brood out across America and get them elected into positions of political influence). Afloat on the ocean and wearing the height of future wetsuit fashion, Lawrence and her lovers ride their luck and beat off the kraken apocalypse in blackjack, taking advantage of the giant squid’s recklessness and inability to count to 21.

Texas Hold ‘Em

Owen Wilson is psychic and can read minds. He therefore has the Alamo Poker World Championship in the bag and is cruising to an easy prize of $13 million which pay for his ailing brother’s heart transplant (Luke Wilson has had his aorta punctured by Jamaican gangsters).

Unfortunately, embittered former Poker King Chuck Norris knows Wilson’s secret and sends in his hit squad of Seven Deadly Rednecks to thwart the high rollin’ psi. With the goons repeatedly wrestling him away from the table and challenging him to mortal combat, can our hero overcome their diverse martial arts styles, win big and buy the medical miracle that’ll save his sibling’s life?

Asshole

Bruce Willis is on the road and backpacking around Canada in pursuit of the sick punk who got his teenage daughter hooked on ketamine. His quest for the eponymous Asshole takes him around a wide array of North American campsites where he out-drinks, out-gambles and then punches out the entire young casts of Chronicle, Project X, Super 8 and the Twilight series. Asshole turns out to be Dave Franco (little brother of James Franco) and after an epic bluffing game in Rocky Mountain wilderness country, Bruce proceeds to brutally pummel the juvenile drugslinger before feeding him to a grizzly bear.

Snap! I like the sound of these. If Hollywood plays its cards right everybody wins.

You can read James' last column here.

James Clayton has a poker face but tends to get a bad hand. You can see all his links here or follow him on Twitter.

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