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03/23/2002 - DEATH TO SMOOCHY
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DEATH TO SMOOCHY's Passive Protagonist by Tom McCurrie


Sometimes passivity can be a good thing. After all, if you tumble into a pit full of rattlers, you'd definitely want those critters to be as passive as possible. But when it comes to the main character in your script, that's the last thing you want him to be.

Why? Maybe since most of us struggle in life, we want our heroes on the big screen do the same. If our protagonist simply sits there while events swirl around him, he comes across as totally unsympathetic.

That brings us to DEATH TO SMOOCHY and its protagonist Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton). Mopes is such a simpering wimp he makes Mister Rogers look like Tony Soprano. Worse still, he does nothing to move the story forward on his own. He's always either forced or tricked into action.

(Warning: Spoilers to follow!)

Let's tick the plot points off. Mopes becomes a TV host only after the previous one, Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams), is sacked in a payola scam. Mopes fights for executive producer credit only when pushed by his sleazy agent (Danny DeVito). Mopes hires a dimwitted sidekick (Michael Rispoli) only when threatened by his relatives in the Irish Mob. Mopes loses his job only when tricked by Randolph into performing at a Nazi rally...and he only gets the job back once His Girl Friday (Catherine Keener) finds out he was tricked into performing at a Nazi rally. And when Mopes is set-up to be killed by a corrupt charity, he's not only unaware of the plot against him, he doesn't even dish out payback to the bad guys once it's foiled. If this isn't a passive character, I don't know what is.

Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if he grew into a take-charge guy over the course of the script -- in fact, that would be a terrific character arc. But Mopes remains exactly the same from beginning to end. He goes through life either blissfully ignorant or rolling over at the first sign of pressure. And this makes him a big zero as far as a protagonist is concerned.


A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive and a story analyst. He is currently a screenwriter living in Los Angeles.

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com

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