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STEALTH: THE STOLEN SECRET by George W. Perkins

122 Pages

GENRE:

Action/Thriller

LOCATION(S):

U.S., Caribbean

FORM:

Screenplay

BUDGET:

High

CIRCA:

Present

DATE:

9/17/03

LOGLINE:   An American agent searches for a missing aircraft carrying a formula that will make any plane (or sub) invisible to radar.

CONTENT SUMMARY:   Despite a solid structure and some nifty twists, STEALTH: THE STOLEN SECRET is too familiar and outdated to recommend.

RECOMMENDATION:  Pass

 

Excellent

Good

Fair

Poor

Premise:

 X 

Story Line:

 X 

Structure:

 X  

Characterization:

 X 

Dialogue:

 X 

SYNOPSIS:   At a Lockheed Martin development facility in the California desert, Russian physicist RESCHINKO passes a formula called Signaflux to a KGB agent for $600,000. Fortunately for Lockheed, the FBI has them both under surveillance and arrests them.

Two days later, a military flight takes off from Pensacola Air Base in Florida. On board is a mysterious passenger handcuffed to an attaché case. Everything is fine until the plane suddenly loses altitude over the Bermuda Triangle...and disappears without a trace.

Back in Los Angeles, NSA Black Ops agent CHRISTOPHER SANTANA (30s) meets with his bureau chief WOODS and DR. KELLY, head of the Lockheed Martin Development Center. They tell him all about Signaflux, a chemical coating that makes any aircraft virtually invisible. Reschinko attempted to sell the latest version of Signaflux but was arrested before he had the chance. Spooked, the government decided to send the new formula and a top scientist, PROFESSOR HEINMILLER, out of the country to mix the Signaflux and bring it back ready for use. But the plane went down over the Bermuda Triangle before he had a chance. Santana's assignment is to find out what happened to the plane, the professor and the formula, which was hidden on an encrypted disk.

Santana wants to check out the crash site, so he travels to Florida where sexy field agent NICOLE will show him around. Nicole tells him that scores of dead fish are washing up on Ninn Bay Island. She also tells him she was chased from the island after she took a picture of a yacht that was anchored there. Santana wants to see that picture. After finding nothing at the crash site itself, Santana and Nicole chopper on to Ninn Bay. The beach is strewn with fish coated in a greenish film, signs to Santana of radiation poisoning. While there, a black helicopter shadows them for a while, then disappears.

Back at the hotel, Santana learns the fish tested positive for radiation poisoning. But when Nicole shows him the photo of the yacht, it seems to look utterly normal. Santana decides to return to Ninn Bay, but first he and Nicole take a shower to scrub each other free of contamination...among other things.

Soon after, Santana catches a "waiter" searching his room and a knockdown, drag-out fight ensues. Santana gets the upper hand and squeezes some info out of his assailant. The "waiter" was sent by CARL BLITZ to retrieve the photo of the yacht. And Blitz himself works for a rich Russian named BAVANOFF.

Driving to the marina to meet Nicole, Santana finds himself being tailed. Santana soon discovers the tail is BRIDGEWATER, a CIA agent sent by the President to see how the investigation is going. Bridgewater tells Santana that Bavanoff is a Russian defector. But he was supposedly killed in a car bombing in New York.

Santana and Nicole sail out on "Big Brother," a large yacht provided by the NSA. Santana plans to go to Ninn Island and provoke a reaction. And he certainly does. A speedboat orders them to leave in ten minutes or else. Santana obliges them, but not before planting a homing device on the boat. Santana proceeds to track the cruiser via "Little Brother," a mini-sub launched right from the yacht. If Santana doesn't return in a couple of hours, Nicole is to contact Bridgewater for help.

Santana tails the speedboat to an underwater cave. While there, the cave walls open to allow the yacht from Nicole's photo to dock there as well. Santana allows himself to be captured to find out more about the base, but ends up being knocked unconscious. Meanwhile, back on Big Brother, Nicole realizes Santana is overdue. But when she tries to return to the mainland, the yacht blows to bits.

While Santana cools off in a cell, he swallows a thermo imaging pill to help the NSA track him. Then he's sprung and allowed to freshen up, even getting his back washed by SU LIN. Su Lin indicates the guy running the show is MR. LEE, but Santana ends up meeting Blitz. During dinner, Blitz tries to find out who Santana really is but gets nowhere. Santana is sent to a fully-furnished bedroom, his new "home" till further notice. He's shocked to find Nicole in the adjoining room; she tells him the explosion on Big Brother threw her clear into the water.

Santana and Nicole are able to escape their rooms and fight their way through the base. Unfortunately, Nicole is shot in the back and killed. Santana stumbles across a room filled with explosives and uses them to destroy the base. He makes it out before the whole place goes up, and is later rescued by the NSA.

But the mystery of the missing plane remains unsolved. Santana plans on solving it by flying the same route as the professor with another copy of the Signaflux formula. He wants to see if his plane suffers the same fate...and it does. Santana loses control of his aircraft and his forced down over the Bermuda Triangle. But he doesn't crash in the water, he lands on an enormous sub carrier that literally swallows his plane and sinks beneath the sea.

On board, Santana meets Blitz, who tells him the name of the ship is the KREMLIN, and that it can literally kidnap planes and ships at will. Blitz kidnapped Santana to compare his Signaflux data with the professor's; they want to make sure they have the real deal. Once the Kremlin is coated in the formula, it will be an unstoppable weapon.

When the Kremlin docks at its island base, Santana meets the head honcho, MR. LEE, who is in fact the supposedly dead Bavanoff. Bavanoff tells him he works for the KGB. In fact, the base Santana destroyed was a small intelligence station for the Russians. And it was the Kremlin that blew Big Brother out of the water. Now Bavanoff wants the formula inside Santana's attaché case. But the case is really an explosive device that Santana uses to wreck the island's radar jamming system. This allows the US forces to attack the island with a vengeance.

As Blitz and Bavanoff escape in the Kremlin, another prisoner, JENNIFER, helps Santana find the professor. The professor in turn helps the agent retrieve the Signaflux disk. All escape onto a waiting Trident sub. Santana orders the Trident to destroy the island base, which it does with dispatch. He's reluctant to do the same with the Kremlin, but when it refuses to answer radio contact, he has no choice. The Trident torpedoes the Kremlin into oblivion.

COMMENTS:   STEALTH: THE STOLEN SECRET has some definite pluses. It has a solid sense of structure, as well as some above average twists. Having co-lead Nicole killed off is especially daring, while the Sub Carrier is an offbeat way to explain the riddle of the Bermuda Triangle.

Unfortunately, STEALTH has two major problems that would practically guarantee a pass. One is the outdated antagonist: the KGB. Since the end of the Cold War in '91, the Russians have gone from sworn enemy to (somewhat) trusted ally. They've also gone from worldwide menace to ineffectual joke, unable to tame even a tiny country like Chechnya. So making the main conflict America vs. Russia comes across as stale and out of touch with current events. And that undermines emotional engagement.

The writer needs to update his villains. After 9/11, Islamic terrorists and North Koreans are much more topical, and threatening, than the Russians. And if the writer wants to stick with the Russians, he needs to update them as well. Making Bavanoff part of the Russian Mafia, or a breakaway, Pro-Soviet faction of Putin's government would make more sense in today's environment.

More deadly to the script's success is the excessive familiarity. Familiarity leads to predictability, and predictability almost always leads to disinterest. In STEALTH's case, the script is way too close to the James Bond franchise. Since the Bond films are so successful, cribbing from them is very easy to catch, making the familiarity especially harmful. For example: the kidnapping of planes by the Kremlin mimics similar scenes in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME where space capsules and nuclear subs are "absorbed" by the bad guys. The scene where Santana sends the waiter back to his boss because he's a "little fish" is straight out of THUNDERBALL. The investigation of a radiation-soaked Caribbean isle evokes Bond's investigation of Crab Key in DR. NO. And Bavanoff's elaborate underwater base is eerily reminiscent of Stromberg's in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and Dr. No's in the first Bond adventure.

The characters also cut too close to the Bond films. Santana is a carbon copy of Bond, athletic, sexually promiscuous and extremely debonair. And like Bond, he sounds more British than American. When he says, "But of course" (Page 74), or "Better luck next time, old boy" (Page 64), he's more Oxford Dean than Navy SEAL. Grimble meanwhile is just another version of Q, giving Santana an exploding briefcase (like Bond's in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) and a homing pill (also like Bond's in THUNDERBALL). And villain Blitz is a cross between Dr. No (who also dines with the hero instead of killing him) and Goldfinger (who practically shares the same dialogue -- while Blitz says, "If I were you, I'd choose my next witticism carefully. It could very well be your last" (Page 102), Goldfinger says, "Choose your next witticism carefully, Mister Bond. It may be your last.") Finally, "Mastermind" Bavanoff delivers endless swaths of exposition, conveniently giving Santana just enough information to destroy the jamming system. This is way too close to a similar (and similarly ridiculous) scene in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER where Blofeld tells Bond how to disable his satellite by stealing the cassette tape.

All this goes well beyond homage to near-duplication, leeching the script of any novelty or drama. Doing a Bond take-off is fine, but the writer needs to come up with a fresher take on the material. XXX with Vin Diesel is a good example. You still have the secret agent/super-villain conflict, but Diesel's extreme-sports character couldn't be farther away from Bond, while the plot and action don't crib wholesale from 007 flicks.

(Of course, if STEALTH were a parody, mimicking the Bond franchise wouldn't be a problem. In fact, it would be part of the fun. But despite some tongue-in-cheek touches, STEALTH comes across as a straight-ahead action-thriller, so that gambit won't work.)

Some plot contrivances: there's always a room full of explosives whenever Santana needs one. This strains credibility, even for an over-the-top action-thriller. Santana should achieve his ends another way, maybe with a gadget he got from Grimble. And Santana's escape on Page 81 depends on a camera having a low-grade lens. This is also too convenient. It would be much preferable to show Santana outwitting a perfectly normal lens. This would be an opportunity to display Santana's ingenuity as well as keep all the breaks from simply falling into his lap. After all, if things are too easy for the hero, suspense evaporates. This is especially true with the Jennifer character. She seems to exist solely to tell Santana where the Professor is and how to get off the sinking island. Santana should force a guard to tell him about the Professor, then have the Professor show him the way out. This would use characters already planted in the story, and mitigate the need to introduce a new (and thoroughly undeveloped) character at the last minute.

One final note: numerous typos pepper the script. Examples: "He's working on the designs for a top secret radar systems [system]." (Page 2) "CHRIS displays a puzzle [puzzled] look." (Page 22) "Behind him, he hears the DISTANCE [DISTANT] SOUNDS of the MEN entering the duct system." (Page 86) The scene description also switches from past to present to past again without warning (scene description should always be in the present). Readers look for any excuse to reject a script -- why give them one with something so easily correctable? The writer should invest in a proofreader; fresh eyes can often catch mistakes the writer cannot.

CONCLUSION:  STEALTH: THE STOLEN SECRET needs to be both freshened and updated if it is to avoid the déjà vu that undermines emotional engagement.

 

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