Monday, June 06, 2016

The Expert

The expert is John Lomax (Jeff Speakman), and his expertise is kicking ass. If only Rick Avery, a busy stuntman (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) whose directing career started and ended with two Speakman movies, had let his star do his thing.

Sorely lacking in action, THE EXPERT’s screenplay by noted crime novelist Max Allan Collins is a muddled pro-death-penalty screed that pours too many subplots and characters into a blender and spits out nothing of consequence. The courtroom scenes bear no resemblance to any American jurisprudence and are a phony excuse to trot out the old “what about the rights of the victims” plot again.

The victim is Jenny Lomax (Michelle Nagy), John’s younger sister, and when her killer, the smarmy Martin Kagan (ANGELFIST's Michael Shaner), is sentenced to a mental institution instead of Death Row, John doesn’t think it’s punishment enough. The number of real-world serial killers who have been set free after a couple of years in a hospital is pretty low, to the best of my memory, but Collins and Avery are under the impression it happens as often as bears crap in woods. To prevent Kagan from “walking” one day, Lomax loads up on weapons from Vietnam vet Snake (a ponytailed Jim Flippin' Varney in a colorful one-day cameo) and breaks into prison so he can kill the killer.

Dr. Alice Barnes (Alex Datcher) is the prison’s new assistant warden, a namby-pamby liberal shrink who works for prisoners’ rights and gets Kagan’s sentence reduced (one of the pointless subplots involves her molestation by her late father, a hard-nosed prison warden worshipped by the current hard-nosed warden, played hammily by James Brolin). The film cops out on its vigilante theme by having Kagan escape and go on a shooting spree while Lomax is breaking in, making it okay for him to kill in self-defense. Avery has a good eye for action, and the fights and stunts are handled quite well. If only THE EXPERT had more of it.

I’ve rested the blame for this mediocre picture on Collins and Avery, because their names are on the screen. THE EXPERT was a troubled production with Collins rewriting an original screenplay by low-budget auteur Larry Cohen (IT’S ALIVE), Collins being rewritten by original director William Lustig (MANIAC COP), who walked off the picture during shooting, and everyone being rewritten by Speakman, who needed the script to reflect what he thought his fans wanted to see. Too Many Cooks Syndrome often leads to watered-down creative, and it’s safe to say all the interference on THE EXPERT did the film no favors.


Max Allan Collins said...

My screenplay, in its every version, was not pro-death penalty. The Brolin character was meant to be viewed negatively (I think he did a good job), and would have had a last act revelation when he discovered that one of the prisoners on death row was innocent. But Brolin didn't get a last act -- he was killed before my last act (largely discarded) began. I asked why and was told they couldn't afford any more days with Brolin. Also, the innocent guy on death row, who was sort of the hero in my version, got killed around the same time as Brolin -- that was why I quit the picture, because (as I told Bill Lustig) "the one-armed man doesn't kill Richard Kimble."

The movie was supposed to be about the Speakman character (earlier it was a Dirty Dozen type group) busting into the prison to kill everybody on death row, but it becomes a botch and endangers a bunch of innocents...and the mission becomes cleaning up after the fuzzy-headed break-in, saving those innocents.

Speakman said his fans wouldn't accept him as flawed in this manner. In the Dirty Dozen version, Fred Williamson was going to go into death row armed to the teeth to execute everybody, and immediately get killed, with the prisoners instantly armed with the weapons Fred brought in.

I have often said that it felt like everybody in the cast had read my screenplay, but there was only one copy and it got lost. So everybody just tried to remember it.

The most interesting thing about my experience was that after Bill left the picture, the producer showed me the assembled film, which had all sorts of scenes in the wrong order, trying to make it play better. I was hired back to write dialogue for looping on the backs of the heads of actors, to fix plot holes.

I will not badmouth Bill Lustig, though. Most of what I learned about screenwriting I got from him.

Unknown said...

Thank you very much for you insight into the movie and how these things get assembled. Fascinating stuff.