3rd Act Problems Theater

My two most recent visitations (The court orders say I can show up as long as I don’t start any riots.) to movie theaters have been quite enjoyable and I would recommend 21 Jump Street and The Cabin in the Woods quite heartily. Unfortunately, both films have the dreaded “third act problems.” The snake that kills many a promising screenplay and the most common complaint of a Hollywood exec, especially if they haven’t read the script (possibly because of illiteracy). So there might be some value to see how these movies lose their ways for all you promising film students out there before you discover your biggest problem is getting financing from a guy who owns a fast food chain and doesn’t understand what Kurosawa has to do with anything and why is everyone so damn sad in your screenplay (C’mon guys, not every indie film needs a super-sad ending. At least have one character get a puppy or something.)?

21 Jump Street

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are a pair whacky cops: one smart, one very large who have to go to undercover in a high school. Hijinks ensue. That’s it. That’s the agony and ecstasy of the whole thing. But after rocking the comedy for an hour, the movie suddenly decides to slow jam its way out to the credits. Suddenly we have to pretend to worry that Hill and Tatum have been taken OFF THE CASE. And they’re fighting! What will happen? Well, they’re going to get back together and take down the bad guys natch. What I’m wondering is what happen to jokes. Were they murdered off-screen? There must be 8 hours of deleted scenes. It’s the Lord of the Rings of buddy cop comedies. We barely get to see Rob Riggle’s take on the gauche gym teacher, Elle Kemper’s attempts to bang Channing Tatum, Chris Parnell’s pitch perfect theater teacher, or Jake M. Johnson’s sad-sack principal. I’m suppose to care about Hill and Tatum’s breakup when I know they’re less than 10 minutes away from rekindling their bromance with some stale Hollywood action scenes? The 5 minutes of unimaginative car chase could have been replaced by, I dunno, something funny. By following the classic 3 act structure of a Hollywood screenplay they miss out what was so goofy and fun about the first 45 minutes.

The Cabin in the Woods

If 21 Jump Street’s problems came from following the buddy cop rules too closely, The Cabin in the Woods lost its 3rd act when Abrams could no longer follow the regular slasher structure.  Now, as you probably have been told, it’s best to enter Cabin blind. Now, the whole experience is still a full “hoot” and dare I say “enanny” if you saw the trailer ahead of time but the less you know the more fun you’re gonna have. So everything after this is SPOILERS. Cabin in the Woods caught me off-guard, even for a metacommentary of the horror genre. I actually liked the kids, I invested into them. And if you invest in the characters in a slasher film, you’ll probably get scared when they get threatened. So the first two parts above ground were great. But it was rushed, the whole scary movie had taken place. What were they going to do now? There’s nothing left to mock, nothing to satirized. Releasing the monsters back on their creators might seem like a natural decision but it takes away from the comedy and any sense of drama the film has. The revenge is incidental for Dana and Marty who have no idea they’re getting back at their tormenters. For all the film’s jovial sniping against the horror genre, there’s no bigger point about the whole thing. No lesson needed to be learn about making people scared. And while that’s perfectly satisfying when you’re dealing with an Abrams metacommentary take on horror, it does make a 3rd act action set-piece boring as all get out.

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