2015 Austin Film Festival Second Rounder.
LOGLINE: When two free-lance agents, a bodyguard and a hit-man, find themselves on opposite sides of an assignment, they realize
that the mishap they shared in the past must bring them together if they are to survive and do the right thing -- save the lives of a mother and her genius son
The story starts off with a riveting action scene that takes off like a shot. The men, described as CIA operatives,launch a bust against what they believe to be is a marijuana-making (sic) enterprise. Accompanied by a newbie
rookie -- a stunning girl whom, we find out later, was stuck on one of the men, Devin -- the operation goes south and escalates into an all-out fire-fight that leaves a man down,
seriously injured, and the rookie in a coma.
The operation is written exceptionally well, with dialogue that is spare, but not choppy.
The action narratives get our blood pumping and put us right there in the middle of it all. We love the writing style, and the slices of action are riveting!
When the smoke clears and we find ourselves eager to settle down, we find that Johnny has been wounded. A second later, we see that Jenny is in even worse shape and is hanging on
to life by a thread. It is unclear what precisely happened, but we are unavoidably drawn in, stunned by the violence and concerned for the well-being of the two wounded.
In a short amount of time, we have already become attached to the three characters because the author has put them in such realistic and unexpected peril. We assume the bad guys
shot both of them and are driven to turn the page to find out just what happened and why the operation went bad.
As the story unfolds, events take an expected twist when the author brilliantly places the two men -- friends and comrades-in-arms -- on opposing sides of a life-or-death situation involving the woman and son: Johnny has sworn to protect them; Devin, to assassinate them. Deliciously, neither knows of the other’s involvement.
Adding a satisfying and sophisticated layer to the text, the men meet for a couple of drinks, and plied with alcohol, verbally spar over their respective professions. Speaking in broad generalities and each unaware of the other’s
involvement in the lives of the woman and son, the men bring to the surface the moral questions that underpin the situation and define each of them and their worldview.
Through their discourse, we also learn more about the relationship between Devin and Jenny, the rookie, i.e., that they had started to see one another.
By page 40 or so, we find out that Jenny is alive but in coma. Devin visits her and, having been appointed her guardian, gives permission for her life support to be turned
At this point, the story takes a decided turn away from most of the emotional elements we have encountered and finishes
up more strongly as an action story.
We see Johnny and Devin realize that they’ve been played one against the other by the archenemy, The Prince.
The two men join forces and with help of the young boy, Johnny’s friends (including Rebar, who is part of the underground milieu that lives beneath the freeway), some high-tech gear, including “clone suits” that provide
invisibility to the wearer, and sheer luck, the men succeed in protecting the woman and her son. They make it to court in time to apparently bear witness against The Prince and
his nefarious organization.
In the last pages, we see Johnny developing a strong interest in the woman as Devin reunites with Jade, a girlfriend we met seventy pages earlier. We assume that Devin’s quest to “be the best at what he does” has taken a back seat to his emerging realization that he needs love, and Jade is the one true person he can count on.
From the start, there are so many apparent plusses in “V$” that we find ourselves impatiently turning pages, eager to see how the story will resolve.
The pacing is excellent. The writing is smooth and satisfying. The characters are interesting and engaging. The storyline is, for the most part, believable and engrossing.
Despite some weaknesses stemming from some missed opportunities for real drama in the story, what’s not to like?
What jumps out at us from the outset is the ability to paint characters that immediately draw us in, and to do so with a few economical verbal strokes. Setting aside the effective treatment of the main characters that make their appearance
at the story’s beginning, we are especially struck by the depiction of Rebar, Johnny’s “underground friend,” as an exceptional piece of writing.
A few well-constructed, descriptive snippets here and there, and we find ourselves entirely mesmerized by this intriguing, witty, and remarkably scary monster of a man.
Hands down, the strong point is crafting action sequences that are knock-your-socks-off great. The long chase scene fairly early on is remarkable.
The weaving into scene of descriptive narratives and the verbal exchanges among the mother (Monica), the young genius (Lee), and Johnny is wonderful, and the genius’s dry, confident quips that wind up extricating them from a number
of fixes during the chase really work!
Later, when the “Apostles” -- mercenaries -- attack in the hydroponics unit, the action is again crisp and clear despite the complexities in the way the scene is choreographed. Single words and short phrases jump off the
page at us, spit out like so many bullets from a machine-gun.
The result is a mesmerizing series of mental images that will easily translate to the screen. The little twists, such as the bioluminescent spores in the hydroponics lab or the stray pixels on the clone suits heighten the excitement
This story also has heart; it is not afraid to tackle moral issues and demonstrate some of life’s general truths, all the while avoiding a preachy tone.
The use of the bar scene to bring to light the moral aspects of each man’s profession and his take on the notions of good and bad, duty, and responsibility is terrific.
“V$” was a joy to read -- fast-paced, fun, and an