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03/23/2002 - The Usual Suspects

(This weekend I'll be obsessively consumed with box-office receipts and reckless Oscar betting, so this column will be, as Garry Marshall's character Edmund Edwards said in SOAPDISH: "Peppy and cheap.")

Why do certain phrases or words pop up so often in screenplays, from both amateur and famous writers? Because they're oh-so-good. Certain words, phrases and descriptions routinely turn up in scripts, be it for how they sound in the reader's internal "voice", or their perfect ratio of economy to expression. Here are a few of my personal favorites:


"The gun / grenade pin / microfilm flew out of Bruno's / Lucius's / Fatima's wounded hand, skittering away across the ballroom / bell tower / walk-in refrigerator floor."


"The intruder / policeman / cthulhu flails wildly, scrambling for purchase on the roof / marble staircase / jet wing."


"The hero / villain / ninja nimbly sprang from the roof gutter" / "to land nimbly in the cradled branches of the huge oak tree" / "nimbly climbing down to safety."


"Marcel peered through his binoculars / microscope, scanning frantically for the rogue seagull / mutating ribosome."


"He passes by the counter where the wallet / amulet / treasure map lays and without a missing a step, pockets it."


"The Sergeant / Matron / Clerk brusquely waves a hand, shunning the bribe / cappuccino / breath mint."


"The vampire howls in pain as Blade drives the flechette into the base of his skull."


"His legs / fists / mandibles work like pistons as his fear / rage / hunger drives him over the rational edge."


"Victoria flinched in terror as the sea serpent / singer / auctioneer opened his jagged, saliva-dripping maw."

And, of course, the all-time greatest and hokiest:


VADER: "I am your father!" LUKE: "NNNOOOOOOOO!!!!!!"


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