Ah the movie cliche. The cop that has to turn in his badge but solves the case anyway, the two guys of different race/belief/background who go from bitter enemies to the closest of friends, the romances that start strong, hit a snag, and result in a chase through downtown on a motorcycle, the car chase where the beautiful sports car is hardly damaged (or damaged so bad there’s no way it could still drive but still does); everyone has their favorite. And they are all over the place, hence ‘cliche.’ Now there are those that people always complain about:
“Of COURSE she drops the car keys when she has to hurry to start the car.”
“NOW her cell phone won’t work!”
“Now EVERYONE is a computer hacker!”
And of course, “The bad guys fire six thousand bullet and NEVER hit him! How bad is their aim?”
Yeah, these are really bad. That last one is perhaps most common, but I’ll let it slide. Why? Because I don’t want to see my hero’s temple explode and the credits roll. Sure it’s a bad convention, but there’s really no other alternative unless you want people to pretend they don’t have guns, or have them all simultaneously jam (another bad convention), or have them throw apples or something.
But there are others, plenty of them, that are rarely commented on but irk me to the point it distracts me from the movie. Here’s my list, in no particular order, of common movie conventions that have grown old, but are not spoke of all that often.
10. Romance in the Rain
The two players in the lovestruck couple have resisted each other at every turn, leaving only longing stares and sexual tension so thick you could choke on it. They annoy each other, sure, but only because their deep, sometimes forbidden love forces them to push away, because they don’t want to get hurt, or because some other stupid reason. Then, thunder rolls in the background. It starts to pour. They argue. She storms away in anger. He yells over the pounding water and roaring thunder, “Because I love you [girl’s name].” She half turns to him, a surprised look on her face. And then they’re kissing furiously.
Okay, so they don’t all play out exactly like this, but the rainy kiss has been exploited far too frequently. We get it, rain is chaotic, emotional, and beautiful, just like love. But their love does not control the weather, damn it. Pride and Prejudice, The Notebook, Spider-Man, Every B-movie romance ever made ever. It would be kind of awesome if Storm did it in the next X-Men movie, but other than that it’s gotten redundant.
9. The Super Secret Tunnel to a Super Public Place OR Why You Should Go In Through The Out Door
This is actually what first got my mind working on this in the first place. I saw Angels and Demons, and there’s a point where they’re looking for this secret room that the Illuminati used to meet in. The police and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), find a car parked in a circular dead end. After a quick search they find nothing and leave. But Langdon isn’t convinced, and sure enough finds a super secret passageway tucked behind a huge slab. He takes it and finds the room, events happen (I won’t spoil it), and then it’s time to leave. Do they go the way they came? No, they take the back door, which exits right into the middle of Rome.
What? How did this place stay secret for so long? Did people really follow the ‘exit only’ sign that literally? The Indiana Jones series, classic though it is, uses this exploit far worse, twice. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, recall that they finally find the Well of the Souls. Pretty damn secret, no? Hiding place of the lost ark of the covenant? Now recall that Indy and Marion are sealed into the snake infested tomb to die. It looks bad, until Indy notices some snakes crawling through some holes in the wall. There must be something behind it, right? He smashes through the wall riding that huge statue, gets through the skull infested pit, and thank goodness finds his exit. Which issssssss….. A single stone block, that he pushes out of place, and finds himself in the middle of a Nazi air military base, air-strip and and all. Did nobody think to excavate that strange structure there? Evidently, to get to the ark, all they had to do was shift the rock, move through a very small room, and blow a hole in a very thin wall. Did the people who buried the ark really want to leave such an obvious entrance? Oh, that’s right, it’s only the emergency exit.
But my favorite happens in The Last Crusade. Indy’s at it again, and this time he’s found the secret tomb of the mythical last knight to return from the holy grail, the one whose shield reveals all the clues. How does Indy find it? He has to punch through a library marble floor and swim through a rat infested catacomb. But since this secret is supposed to be kept safe, some people torch the tomb and set the whole thing ablaze. In desperation, Indy covers he and Elsa with the coffin. But how is he going to get out? He goes underwater for ten seconds, come back and says, “I think I found a way.” Cut scene, they arise in a nice dining courtyard out of the sewer grate that was right under their feet. This super-secret tomb was a branch off the Venice sewer system. It took Indiana Jones three seconds to spot the entrance, how was that tomb secret for so long? Also, why did that nice restaurant put their dining area right over a sewer grate?! Okay, so that’s not as important.
I’m sure this was used in movies such as National Treasure or Tomb Raider as well, but bottom line is it’s getting ridiculous.
8. The Wise Blue-Collar Worker
This one has been beat to death. The lowly worker, typically a janitor, and typically black, who pushes our struggling hero to achieve his goals, or helps him in some fashion. Occasionally he’ll be endowed with powers, as in 17 Again. But typically he’s just a wise old philosopher who sweeps floors. He’s most prominently featured in Rudy, but you can find him everywhere. I appreciated Bruce Almighty, because they slightly spoofed it by having Morgan Freeman play the wise, black janitor who was actually God himself. But then Morgan Freeman played the exact role in Million Dollar Baby… But Damn. he played it well didn’t he?
7. Follow Your Heart
It’s the wisest advice that I’m sick and tired of hearing. This line cannot be said without sounding cheesy and ridiculous. Find another way to say it, I beg of you. And just putting ‘heart’ with synonyms doesn’t help. “You’re heart won’t lead you astray,” or, “Do what your heart tells you,” sound just as bad. From now on, mentors are not allowed to mention cardiac pumps whilst aiding the protagonist in difficult decisions.
Sidenote: When did the brain become such a second stringer? No one ever says, “follow your brain.”
6. James Marseden Losing the Girl in Every Movie He’s In
This one’s pretty self explanatory, but I’ve never seen such typecasting. X-Men, The Notebook, Superman Returns, Enchanted, he’s always losing the girl he loves to whomever the focus of the movie is. Ridiculous. I’m a straight guy, but I’ll admit James is a pretty damn handsome fella. Why are girls so ready to leave him?
Though, I’ll add a positive to this, however. In many romantic comedies, the lead girl is in a relationship with a man who the audience knows she isn’t meant to be. Why? Because he’s a total douche-bag, a general jack-ass, and almost always unfaithful (think Wedding Crashers or The Wedding Singer or perhaps some other Wedding movie. Wow I can’t wait til the Waynes brothers make Wedding Movie…). He has to be, right? Or else we’d feel bad when the girl leaves him for the male lead.
Except this is not how real life always is. A woman can love another man for inexplicable reasons, and sometimes the person she’s with isn’t a bad guy at all, it just wasn’t (cliche warning) meant to be. Also, when we see this woman in a long term, often betrothed relationship, with this ass-muncher, it takes away her credibility and intelligence as a character. It’s been three years and he’s had forty hickeys, and you don’t like the taste of his aftershave, figure it out. But James Marsden plays good characters, good men whom you should care for, and it does add a hint of realism to the relationships. But can’t we get another actor to play the part sometimes?
5. Horror Movies: Their Entirety
Some of these are common complaints, but I found too many cliches in this genre to narrow it down. There is the aforementioned “fumbling of the car keys,” but other conventions flood through the genre like herpes. Here are a few of my least favorites:
1. How fast can he walk? The masked killer never breaks stride, while the victims sprint as fast as they can. Somehow he catches up to disembowel them.
2. The dog in the trashcan. Generally this will happen in the beginning of the movie. There’s a rattling outside, and the protagonist tenses up, though s/he really has no reason to be scared at this point other than the fact that s/he’s in what will become a horror movie. S/he slowly goes to investigate, nervous as a whore in church, until a dog or some other harmless animal sprints out of the bushes or trashcans or whatever and sprints into the night. Whew! This is a cheap and stupid horror trick, done for a quick scare and nothing more. It’s even worse, when the camera will switch point of views to make it look like someone is watching the character creep up, until we learn we were looking through dog eyes.
3. Eerie musi-BANG. The animal scare is often used with this little horror gimmick as well. The suspense in the scene is mirrored by the eerie music that is getting more and more intense, rising to a climax we know will scare us. Suddenly, the eerie music increase in volume four-fold and there is a loud beat from the strings. Everyone jumps! Oh it was a dog, or it was just the friend of the character behind the door. This BANG is another cheap, artificial scare. I want the movie to scare me, not its soundtrack.
4. The helpless victim. Too often in horror movies, the people do nothing but scream. They don’t grab weapons, they don’t make good decisions, they just scream. Why not grab an effing shovel and smack that stupid punk with the mask in the forehead? He won’t walk so fast, then.
The fact that Silence of the Lambs uses none of these gimmicks, and is still scary and unsettling, is what makes it such a great movie. And you know what cliche will never get old? Creepy little girls. Those bitches are horrifying.
4. How Far Can You Fall?
I don’t want my heroes dead, I’ve said that already, so I don’t want them to be crushed when they plummet from great heights. But if they DO take that plunge, I wouldn’t mind a believable way for them to not splatter. In The Dark Knight Batman and Rachel are plummeted from a ridiculously high penthouse, and walk away without a scratch. Yeah, yeah he stuck out his cape, but that really didn’t slow them down much it just made them spin. And they landed hard enough to damage the car they used as a pillow, so you can’t tell me that wouldn’t break a leg or something. They could have done a lot to save this, all they needed was to make his wing slow them down enough to NOT cave in a buick.
You’ll see this in a lot of movies. In Spider-Man 2 a completely human Peter Parker falls and bangs off the walls and cars like we was a bouncy ball and walks off, just holding his slightly bruised back. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull they go over not one, but three waterfalls in their little floating car, no problem. It’s completely absurd! What’s worse is when they land in a dumpster and the trash acts like a magical cushion that completely absorbs their force. “Thank God this pile of broken glass was here. That really could have hurt.”
Much like “Follow your heart,” this little gem has been polished a few too many thousand times. The desperate fall to the knees followed by the gut wrenching yell is just too cliche to be dramatic any more. Now it just comes off as silly. Especially when Darth Vader does it in Episode III.
Not exactly what I was looking for, but it gets the job done.
2. Shooting Everything But The Hero
What? I thought you weren’t going to mention this one, because you don’t want your hero dead? Don’t worry, guys, I’m talking about a subtle difference.
To illustrate I’m going to back to the only Indiana Jones movie I haven’t mentioned yet, Temple of Doom. There’s a scene where Indiana is up on a wooden catwalk, with wooden railings so thin they’re hardly visible on camera. But once the shooting starts, they seem to be all these bad guys can hit. As he runs along it, bullets pelt this little railing like crazy, and therefore barely save his life. What I’m trying to say is: I can handle the bad guys missing the hero. My suspension of disbelief ends, however, when the hero is protected by using that little wooden railing for body armor. You can find ‘rail bullets’ like this in a lot of movies (see: every James Bond). How about you just don’t show me where the bullet hit. I can imagine how it missed.
Similarly, when the aircraft (be it helicopter or airplane) takes its big ass machine gun and points it at the frantic hero running away, it’s always the case that the spray of bullets will be behind him and quickly catching up, only to pull up right before his legs are clipped. You gotta lead him, dammit!
1. Walk Away from that Big Ass Explosion
Either the hero or villain, depending, has set off a chain of events that he knows will result in a cataclysmic explosion. To show his stone hearted, bad ass indifference, he just walks away from it. Once it blows up? He keeps walking. He doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t look back, he just walks. Cause he’s cool. This little clip shows that this has run it’s course, or should I say walked.
What else? What are some other great movie conventions that irk you? Let me know!