“Panama,” about a day in the life of a substitute teacher at a school with the faculty from hell, reads like a “Breakfast Club” for grownups without the learning or growing. Scripts that take place over the course of a day have great potential when something significant happens during that day (Die Hard With a Vengeance, Changing Lanes, etc). Sadly however, this doesn’t seem to be the case with “Panama.” The clichéd characters weren’t believeable at all to me, from the stereotypical coach, art and music teachers to the students who spoke like teachers themselves. The descriptions of the action leaned heavily on things that couldn’t be shown on the screen and therefore have no place in a screenplay. For example, “The choices seem limited but they make do,” “The elementary school classroom, it truly brings back memories. Only usually upon memory we remember a vibrant room with lots of colors and decorated walls but in this case all four walls are bare,” “. . .this makes us as uncomfortable as Luke,” “Mr. Brady reads over a file, probably Luke’s,” “For some reason we are convinced that Luke Wilson left his mark,” the entire description of the Janitor’s “office,” etc. Very little of the dialogue sounded like anything someone would actually say, (although Mr. Birchbeck’s song about the “Rich white man” was hilarious). Characters’ names were capitalized after they had already been introduced. There were many, many misspellings and grammatical errors, which were surprising given the author’s history as a teacher. Most specifically were the abundance of “your” when “you’re” would have been called for, and “its” in the place of “it’s,” as well as “half-hardily/half-heartedly.” And this I really don't get--the author was a teacher, Luke is a teacher, yet the whole coffee interchange between Luke and Mr. Willis on page 12 is about the word "infer," which isn't even appropriate here. "Imply" or "suggest" would be correct. Dana’s relationship with Mr. Willis wasn’t convincing at all, despite her claim, “There’s a side to him that no one sees but me. A good side, a loving side.” And if she were going to break up with him, wouldn’t she have done it in the privacy of one of their homes instead of in the hall at school? Also, in today’s politically correct climate of “you can’t even spank a child,” someone as profane and abusive as Mr. Willis wouldn’t last two seconds. And I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but specific song titles, pacing and camera direction (as well as an abundance of “we see”) have no place in a spec script, particularly as demonstrated in the final scene. I know the writer probably plans to direct this himself, but those things should be saved for the shooting script. I didn’t even know who to root for, as none of the characters were particularly likeable. Even Luke’s admonition to Dana to “get out of there” threw me, because she didn’t do one single noble thing to establish her as one of the “good guys.” All of this could perhaps be overlooked if there were some emotional payoff in the end, but Luke’s so-called “meltdown” simply rambled on like a flaccid anti-climax. If something had truly been at stake and characters we could even remotely care about were involved, this would have been a more enjoyable screenplay. Thanks for reading and God bless.
Review of: Panama
reviewed by phillil on 02/14/2008
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