Mike Shannon is a third-generation boat cop. He patrols in a 35-foot cigarette boat named Ice Quake. It’s white with sky blue trim, has CHICAGO POLICE writ large in red block letters on both sides, and has bright blue lights that flash whenever he is in hot pursuit or pulling alongside a barge. Shannon’s beat is the Chicago River from just east of Michigan Avenue to just south of the Van Buren Street Bridge—the Loop, essentially, though he is occasionally as far afield as the mouth of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal at 26th and Ashland. Boat Cop’s duties include everything from checking maritime shipping licenses to reviewing bills of lading. He works alone. This is never addressed or explained, other than that he once had a partner but now he is dead. The movie opens with a Taxi Driver-esque monologue about the things he sees on his beat, though it’s more informative than depressing.
I would like to cast an unknown for Boat Cop (Mike Shannon), but in an ideal world I would cast Bruce Willis. Willis is that rare actor who can imply melancholy and vigor, cynicism and idealism, at once. This is out of the question because Willis has already portrayed a boat cop in Striking Distance. I have never seen the movie and do not want to, so if there are any similarities between my script and that one I’d rather they just hang in the air unbeknownst to me. If I cast Willis, the audience might be distracted by the earlier movie and think BOAT COP is a sequel, and if there are a lot of similarities between the two plots, then people might think I am making some sort of post modern meta-commentary on Striking Distance, when really I am not. So let’s go with an unknown, a man with that Willisean mélange of weary bravado, but nobody already named Mike Shannon. That would be stupid/confusing. Characters will mainly address Boat Cop as “Boat Cop,” but still.
Boat Cop is divorced. He has a 12 year-old son who occasionally rides along on patrol, but never when things are hairy. His ex-wife occasionally appears dockside to pick up the son and harangue him (Shannon) about child support, but this anger is belied by an obvious affection for Boat Cop. She’s more bitter and disappointed by life itself than by anything that Boat Cop did. I guess you could say she expects more. Who doesn’t? She always appears exceptionally frustrated and bothered, like: she holds a bag of groceries and a three-ring binder at all times to convey “busyness.” She wears drab clothing and homely glasses and constantly pushes frayed, greasy hair out of her face.
However, Boat Cop’s ex-wife is, despite it all, kinda hot. You don’t notice at first, but by her third scene you realize: while for Hollywood she is just OK, if she ever walked into a bar that you actually hung out at, you’d lose your shit. By the end of the movie viewers will realize, “Oh my God! That’s Elizabeth Shue!”
PART II. THE CRUX OF THE PLOT:
During a shoot-out at the Dearborn Street Bridge (300 N. Dearborn), Boat Cop shoots the mayor’s (Benicio del Toro’s) son (whoever, doesn’t matter), and now the young man is laid up in the hospital with a bullet in his ass. He won’t die, nothing close. It’s just really embarrassing. The mayor’s son was on the boat of a known (to Boat Cop) drug dealer (Don Cheadle). In all honesty no one, not even Boat Cop, thinks the mayor’s son was anything but an innocent bystander— like a friend of a friend of a friend who got invited vaguely to this boat party by a guy that that guy didn’t even know well (cameo by Steve Nash, as himself). The party gets out of hand; Boat Cop shows up to tell them to keep it down; then, what’s this? They start dumping sacks of white powder over the side like it’s the Boston Cocaine Party. Someone shoots at Boat Cop and then Boat Cop shoots back. Boom— mayor’s kid has got a slug in his butt. Charges won’t be pressed against the boy but Boat Cop wants to go after Cheadle since his bill of lading was seriously misleading. The mayor just wants the whole affair to blow over since he’s up for reëlection soon... but that’s not how Boat Cop works. Oh: I am of course open to the idea that the mayor’s son is a hip-hop DJ on a local Spanish-language radio station, but I’d rather not go in that direction if we can avoid it.
Life begins to press upon Boat Cop in countless ways. He went from being a simple, seldom-noticed boat cop to the guy who shot the mayor’s son’s butt. The mayor decides that they don’t even need a full-time beat for the river any more, mainly because of the mini-scandal around his son’s butt, sure— but he also sort of has a point. Boat Cop (Mike Shannon) only covers about a mile worth of river, and other than routine barge traffic there is not much going on that the people at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, who operate the Lake Michigan locks, can’t handle. Thus, BOAT COP’s subject is the changing face of America rather than a just another cop on the edge.
Things work out in the end, of course, but in ways that satisfy the Intellectual as much as the Common Man. Sure, the drug dealer (Don Cheadle) goes to jail, but not before eloquently explaining to Boat Cop that he just put out one acre of an otherwise incredibly huge forest fire like they have from time to time out in California. Boat Cop and his ex-wife have sex minutes before denouement, but more to slake an urge than rekindle a romance. Boat Cop does keep his beat, but he sees his boat (Ice Quake) replaced by a more practical if prosaically christened pontoon (CPD54375R). Etc.
PART III. ESSENTIALS:
- It is essential that Michael Caine be cast as Chief of Police. His Englishness must never be called out. If Caine’s not down then fuck it.
- It is essential that Boat Cop’s son be cool and handsome, not bespectacled and nerdy. More young Leonardo Di Caprio or River (Phoenix) than a twelve year-old version of the kid from Jerry McGuire. And I mean Leo a la This Boy’s Life, not deaf-mute Leo a la What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Is he deaf in that? Never saw it, won’t see it.
- It is essential that Benicio del Torro be cast as Mayor. The fact that he is dressed the same way (black suit, bright-red shirt, no tie) as his character “Fenster” in The Usual Suspects must never be called out. If del Torro is not willing to lose enough weight to look like Fenster again, then I will go with someone who can act like Fenster. (Javier Bardem?)
- While it is not essential that Elizabeth Shue portray Ex-Mrs. Boat Cop, it is essential—beneath all the anger and grit and considerable crow’s feet and omnipresent cigarette and (implied) nights spent passed-out on a couch before a TV’s glow with a tumbler of gin in her hand—that this woman be extremely good looking. Not that it has any bearing on the plot or character, really. I just want the audience to have that special surprise movies sometimes give us when we notice that, hey! That ugly lady’s actually pretty hot!
- If the only good-looking 12 year-old we find or the best looking 12 year-old we find is a deaf-mute, I am willing to re-work the screenplay accordingly. In fact, this can give Boat Cop a chance to say things out-loud that he’d never actually tell anyone, as long as the kid is not looking and reading his lips.
- It is not essential that Don Cheadle play the drug kingpin. In fact, he can play Mike Shannon (Boat Cop) if he wants. HOWEVER, I feel it essential that his son have a certain Leo Di C. quality. That is, his son must be white. A Don Cheadlean Boat Cop can justify this when monologizing to his deaf son whenever the kid isn’t looking, like while the boy is busy sorting lines in the tacklebox. He just has to say something like, “When your mother and I adopted you...” Maybe I can’t explain it, but it’s not racial or racist or anything. I’d just rather have that nerd from Jerry McGuire as his son than a black kid, and I can tell you right now that that won’t happen. It just won’t work if the kid is black. As for the ex-wife’s ethnicity, that’s less important. It could be a haggard Lucy Liu for all I care.
- Forest Whitaker must play a homeless man named The Discipline who lives under a bridge and dispenses cryptic wisdom to Boat Cop (Mike Shannon) as he slowly floats by his (The Discipline’s) cardboard encampment at the beginning of each act. I will write no dialogue for this character. Whitaker will ad lib.
The goal is to make a movie that, deftly, appeals to everyone. It will be like Alien orAliens, but not so much the third, bald-Winona one: everyone who saw Alien(s) enjoyed themself(s). Unlettered churls liked the shoot-em-up stuff and the scary monsters; elbow-patched brainiacs liked the subversive stuff about a female hero avenging the forcible impregnation of males. BOAT COP will be full of such heady switcheroos. (E.g., “An English police-chief!? In Chicago!?!”) When today’s teenager gets to college, I want his professors to allude to BOAT COP left and right. And not just in film lectures or English Lit classes. I want geology professors to equate stratigraphy to the layers of plot going on in BOAT COP. I want calc profs to help students understand limits by pointing out how close Mike Shannon (Boat Cop) walks to the edge while never quite touching it. I want undergrads to think, “Wow, Dennis O’Toole is capital-B Brilliant.” Grad students can fuck themselves.
Any cop-movie/cop-show cliché is allowed, but only for subversion’s sake. For example, Shannon (Boat Cop) swore vengeance against the guy who killed his partner, but that is more along the lines of helping his widow with attorney’s fees in a malpractice suit against the hospital where, after routine rotator-cuff surgery, he contracted a Staph infection and died.
This will be a high-action, high-concept cop movie. Kinda like The Wire meets Miami Vice. (Note well: Sonny Crocket also lives on a boat.) (At least in the show he does. I haven’t seen and won’t see the movie.) There will be a bit of The Wire’s Detective McNulty in Boat Cop (Mike Shannon), in that he is up against not just a criminal element, but also a huge, impersonal, and semi-corrupt bureaucracy. I have not seen more than four episodes of The Wire so base most of my comparison on rumor. (If McNulty lives on a boat too, even better.) All the nerds who rave about The Wire will love the endless allusions to Thorstein Veblen and Hannah Arendt, and all the Limp Bizkit fans who rave about 2 Fast So Furious or whatever will go apeshit over the cigarette boat chases and obligatory ultimate-fighting scenes. Plus, there’s a lengthy strip-club scene featuring complex dialogue in blank verse, cogent commentary on modern life by characters who subvert type, and tons, just tons of the biggest boobs you ever saw.
Can a film be all things to all people? No. But BOAT COP will be.