Coming to DVD Tuesday, Sept. 18th
James Van Der Beek as Paul Twist
Jeff Roop as Michael
Adam MacDonald as Jack
Tara Spencer-Nairn as Kate Twist
Deborah Odell as The Agent
Julia Schneider as Casey
Darryn Lucio as David Hockin
Melanie Marden as November
James Binkley as Punchy
Directed by Jonathan Dueck
The tagline for this psychological thriller (a term I’m using strictly as a formality) is “Some Stories Should Never Be Written”. And anyone who happens to see this film (against my recommendation to spend a night eating glass instead) will wish the makers of “Final Draft” had heeded that admonition.
In “Final Draft,” ex-“Dawson’s Creek” star James Van Der Beek plays Paul Twist, a one-time success at screenwriting (his one big hit â “Screaming Against the Wind”) but he’s now floundering. His actor buddy and “Screaming Against the Wind” star David Hockin (played by Final Draft writer Darryn Lucio) is trying to instigate Paul into writing a new screenplay but David’s efforts are frustrated by Paul’s depression over his divorce and the writer’s reluctance to turn a recently expressed notion for a screenplay into a full-length draft.
Paul’s idea comes from a place where many writers find inspiration, their childhood. Unfortunately, the memory that’s prompting Paul to write is of a circus clown named “Punchy” (“Final Draft’s original working title) who accidentally set his own face on fire as Paul and an audience of kids looked on. Oops! Paul relates to David how the whole incident went down way back when (a mishap that was entirely the clown’s own careless doing), how he and his friends unknowingly laughed at the cooked clown’s misfortune and now he imagines a scenario in which this fried-face fiend is out to exact supernatural revenge on these now grown children by making their deaths look like suicide â after first subduing his prey by hitting them over the head with a bag of, um, oranges. Yes, oranges: it’s a questionable M.O. that would seem to preemptively deny ol’ Punchy a place in the Horror Hall of Fame.
Let’s see: Leatherface? Chainsaw, yep! Freddy Krueger? Handmade Finger Claws â nice! Uh, Punchy? A bag of oranges? Yeah…citrusy goodness!
Paul, unfortunately, isn’t up to the task of actually writing this nail-biter. But David, desperate for the pair to regain their former success, harangues him into trying. Coming up with his own do-or-die solution (as Paul says, in foreshadowing italics: I’m going to write this script â even if it kills me!), Paul coerces David to lock him inside his own apartment until an agreed due date for the first draft of the screenplay is up. But the strain only causes Paul to start losing track of fact and fiction as figures from his past step in and out of his imagination to berate him.
Fair warning: for a good part of “Final Draft,” Van Der Beek holds the screen solo. Now, some actors have the chops for that. In “1408” for example, John Cusack did virtuoso work. Van Der Beek, however, doesn’t deliver that same caliber of performance. Whether it’s due to the script, the direction (courtesy of Jonathan Dueck) or his own shortcomings (I will say I admired Van Der Beek in Roger Avary’s 2002 film “Rules of Attraction”), his performance here is unconvincing. Unless he was trying to convince us that he can’t act, that is â then it’s very convincing.
Even beyond Van Der Beek’s performance, “Final Draft” had a credibility gap from the start. Typically in the tormented writer sub-genre, it’s a novelist who snaps â with the consensus being that writing a novel is a much more obsessive task and a much more mysterious process than writing a screenplay. Given the right circumstances, it’s easy to believe the effort required to be a novelist could push an unstable person over the edge. It’s harder to buy that when a writer is trying to knock out a screenplay about Punchy the clown.
Even in those cases when there have been films about troubled screenwriters, they’ve pointedly been about the difficulties of condensing and compromising the higher ideas and ambitions of another medium into the screenplay form â “Adaptation” (2002), for example, is about author Charlie Kaufman’s vexing efforts to adapt a novel and in the Coen brother’s “Barton Fink” (1991), John Tuturro’s character is a serious playwright tormented by his efforts to sell out his creativity to Hollywood. Then there’s those films that detail the toll taken by the morals and politics of Hollywood â films such as “The Player” (1992) or “In a Lonely Place” (1950) â rather than caution anyone on the creative hazards of screenwriting. Hell, even Judd Nelson, who murders in the name of researching a screenplay in the direct-to-cable chiller “Cabin By The Lake” (2000), was originally a novelist and already a serial killer.
Ultimately, what undoes “Final Draft” is that it’s a movie about a writer who can’t write his story because there’s no story to write. And in turn, there’s no movie to watch. The movie sure isn’t a horror film, by any measure.
It’s less of a “Final Draft” than it is a “First Attempt At Writing.”