Skip to main content

Dumb Fun vs Bad Writing

Last week I watched Mindhunters.  It's an incredibly dumb movie, but I had a great time with it and I'd recommend it to anybody who enjoys silly, overblown thrillers.

But this can create a problem with my film philosophy, you see.  I've harped on movies like Transformers or Star Trek Into Darkness in the past because I thought they were dumb and had terrible screenplays.  The Transformers franchise in particular is terribly written.

A frequent defense of those movies is that "You can just turn off your brain and enjoy them," and seemingly I'm saying the same thing in defense of Mindhunters.  As you can imagine from a weirdo like me, I'm losing sleep over this kind of cognitive dissonance.

Fortunately, I think I've figured it out.

First, I think it's important to clarify what "dumb fun" is.  These are silly movies where the characters do dumb things, or the plot twists are ridiculous, or the resolution is contrived.  But despite these flaws, the overall tone is light-hearted, campy, and energetic.

Most importantly, the movies still have a solid story structure.

If you think about it in terms of the actual things that happened, then you'll laugh because it's so dumb.  In Mindhunters, there's a group of seven FBI agents dumbasses who go to an island to role play and train themselves in crime scene investigation.  Over the course of the movie, they'll argue at each other over nonsense, they'll split up when they should stick together, they'll handcuff the only black guy on the island and insist that he's a murderer even though they have no basis for it, and so on.  They're the worst detectives in history, and so it's no surprise that most of them get murdered by a serial killer.

But even when the characters are dumb, the story still makes sense.  There's never a moment in Mindhunters when I said to myself, "Wait, what are they doing right now?  What's their motivation?"  It's always clear what the conflict is and what the purpose of each scene is.  It's coherent even if not believable.

Even The Room has a relatively stable story structure.  Sure, there's a hundred tangents and the movie needlessly includes a bunch of filler footage of random B-plots and a hyper-realistic depiction of every day monotony that has nothing to do with the overall narrative - but the story is still there.  A well-meaning guy's fiancee cheats on him and breaks his heart, then he kills himself.  Simple.

But then you look at something like Transformers 2.  Yikes.  Go ahead and try to tell me what the plot of that is.  I dare you.  A hundred bucks if you can explain how each scene communicates what it's doing to move on to the next one.

If Directors give a movie vision and Actors give a movie heart, then Writers give a movie a brain.  A movie can be overall simple and dumb, but as long as it has a functioning brain, it's going to move and talk like a movie.  That is dumb fun.

So I guess that would make bad writing, what, like a lobotomy or something?  Yeah, let's go with that.  Bad screenplays are like the Phineas Gages of the movie world, except that he at least helped to give us a railroad.