I was tempted to call this posting, “I’m too old for this shit,” to give you a clue as to what it’s about. And, yes, you’ve got it, I am talking today about clichés. Clichés, the writer’s sworn enemy. Clichés have a way of sneaking in under the wire, in the work of even the most seasoned of writers. At high school we were told by English teachers in no uncertain terms to “avoid them like the plague.” Did you notice what I did just then? I used a cliched expression “avoid them like the plague.”
My point being that school kids are allowed to get away with them. It’s – another cliché – a learning curve. However, seasoned Hollywood scriptwriters, directors and producers have no excuse. Clichés can of course be employed in a tongue-in-cheek way, but not when they are used and re-used in the same way. We all know the hoary old cliché of the aging cop who is brought out of retirement to track down the killer he failed to capture first time around. At some point, during a shootout, or when he’s trying to vault a wall, or when he’s in the middle of a car chase, he’s going to say (I promise you): “I’m too old for this shit.” And on the subject of car chases, why is it, I wonder does the driver of the fast car, when he’s trying to escape the pursuers, invariably says, “Hang on.” Talk about a needless instruction. Also, I asked myself, hang on to what? Your hat? Your cojones? The air?
My all time favourite Hollywood cliché, though, has to be THE BIG SPEECH. In way too many films these days, whether it’s a high school teen romp, a romantic comedy, a courtroom drama, or a sci fi epic, there’s a scene close to the end when all is put right. The anti-hero finds redemption, and stands up on a platform and tells everyone what a bad person he has been and how he has changed because of the love of a good woman/parent/mentor/dog. Or the villain is crushed – usually in a very public place like Prom Night, an assembly hall, a football arena, or somewhere else large and crowded – while the hero publicly shows his triumph. Admittedly, I did want to cheer when Al Pacinio, in the film, “And Justice for All” turned on the client he was defending and declaimed to the judge and all assembled in the courtroom: “He did it. The sonofabitch did it!” Only now I’ve lost count of the times I have watched that same scene, or one much like it, played out again and again in Hollywood movies.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a huge amount of respect for scriptwriters. Many of them do a sterling job against all odds (budget, market forces and so on). But the producers and directors all too often go for the easy way. They somehow believe that this kind of nonesense is what the audience wants. But, in my view, all these clichés and cop-out endings simply insult audiences. Honestly, Hollywood, you don’t need to over-explain everything. And, if you’re going for laughs, come up with some new lines, please.