A LEONARD COHEN AFTERWORLD
By Mike White
It's by sheer coincidence that I happened to pick out two Scott Rosenberg scripts when I was making my list of article topics for CdC #10. While enjoying CON AIR for its sheer mind-numbing insanity (and because it's fun to insert RAISING ARIZONA lines into Nicholas Cage's dialogue when he's in prison, "You ate sand?"), I thought that THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD was pure hokum (I'd rather be trampled by a bull than sit through another Andy Garcia film). Both films are similar in their snide humour and innumerable characters; traits that I ran across once again while reading Rosenberg's version of GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS (see review next issue) and, again, in A LEONARD COHEN AFTERWORLD.
Taking its title from Nirvana's "Pennyroyal Tea", the script follows the adventures of two white trash teens (so alike that they're nearly interchangeable), Pilot and Jack as they engage in the rites of passage. They're on a quest and we're sure to find that they'll leave Las Vegas as boys but arrive in Seattle as men. I'm sure Joseph Campbell could explain it much better than I could.
It's tough to sympathize with anyone in the story. These kids are trashier than Courtney Love. Just when one thinks that Jack is the dumber of the two; Pilot opens his mouth. Their implementation of some jive-ass slang doesn't hinder their moronic appearance either.
The trite story is that Jack is on the run from Burt Miranda, a local Vegas contractor with whose wife Jack's been sleeping. He needs to get out of town and his buddy, Pilot, suggests Seattle as he wants to attend a memorial vigil in honor of Kurdt Kobain, whose suicide Pilot learned about that morning our story opens. Miranda sends a troika of goons known as the Pandas after the boys. The Pandas remain one short step behind our heroes as they make their way north, picking up Cassie, an ex-whore, and Johnny the Fox, an over-the-hill speed freak who plans on making a killing selling muffin caps (this script was written 6/98 - when was that muffin-bound Seinfeld episode on?).
The script takes an extended break, forgetting the Pandas while Pilot, Jack and Cassie visit Desmond the Alligator Boy-a freak in a large glass terrarium whose mother sells tickets to gander at him in hopes of earning enough money to move them to Gibsontown, a village of freaks in Florida. They boys ponder Desmond's existence and return the next day to say their goodbyes where they find Desmond in danger from the obligatory crowd of drunken frat boys, taunting the Alligator Boy as if he were the Elephant Man. After saving him and donating some cash towards his mother's cause, the group is off again. The purpose of the Alligator Boy subplot eludes me, except perhaps that the final scene of Pilot pulling into Gibsontown with his best gal by his side and Desmond and his mother in the back seat gave Rosenberg some sort of intense chubby.
Finally in Seattle, there is no time wasted before the group finds themselves at the memorial service. The climax of the film has the Pandas chasing Jack and Pilot through the throngs of devoted Nirvana fans while Courtney Love's recorded statement is played over a public address system, a disturbing and inappropriate juxtaposition. The backdrop of the tragic stupidity of Kobain's suicide is employed only for exploitative purposes and, perhaps, to create a highly marketable soundtrack of popular artists covering Nirvana tunes (as Rosenberg specifies throughout the script). The only time that our protagonists interact with their surroundings--that the memorial service comes into play--is when the crowd of mourners suddenly become a blood-thirsty dues ex machina, ripping the Pandas to shreds and saving our heroes from having their feet broken (as is Miranda's favorite punishment).
Of course everyone lives happily ever after, Jack and Cassie continue their on-the-road romance and spend their days working at the muffin top shop. What's the lesson learned from Kurdt Kobain's suicide? Um, dead singers sell a lot of records and, hopefully, movies that have some sort of fleeting reference to dead singers sell lots of tickets.
LEONARD COHEN AFTERWORLD has undergone several title changes (from the aforementioned to just AFTERWORLD to HIGHWAY). Its release has been rescheduled several times--let's hope it's just dumped innocuously on video and forgotten. For more info check out the New Line Cinema site.