Hoosiers wouldn't have been as good if Gene Hackman had, say, simply overheard the opposing coaches game plan before every game. But Hollywood repeatedly gambles enormous blockbuster budgets that we'll want to watch someone trip dick first into the exact thing they were looking for.
Harry Potter is supposed to be some sort of predestined messiah wizard, but his greatest survival skill is bumbling around in the dark and accidentally overhearing information that will come in handy later on. And if he and his friends are attacked by a monster, you can be sure they learned its weaknesses in class last week.
"Check it out guys, more apparently useless trivia we should memorize."
Probably the best example comes in Goblet of Fire, when Harry Slumdog Millionaire's his way through a challenge that's billed as the ultimate test of his wizardry skills. Yet, every challenge he faces is based on something he or some other character learned at some point in the film. While this isn't exactly a logical flaw, it's certainly a trick. They tell you you're going to see a movie about the best wizard ever, when in actuality you're going to see some kid remember shit that was conveniently explained to him last week.
The hugely successful Bond reboot Casino Royale was guilty of the same lottery switcheroo. James Bond has to bankrupt a villain by beating him in a game of Texas Hold 'Em (apparently the game of choice for sophisticated British gentlemen.) In the final showdown, the two superfluous characters have a flush and a full house, the bad guy has a better full house and looks confident in his win. But then Bond is dealt a straight flush, the absolute perfect hand at that moment.
For those not familiar with poker, the odds of all that happening in one hand are pretty damn low, one in 158,551,976 to be precise. It's supposed to show us what a suave badass we're dealing with, but if the film had a stray bolt of lightning come through the casino walls and strike the villain dead, it would have been just as unlikely, and required as much secret agent-ing as Bond's once in a lifetime hand. Why not have him gamble on a terrible hand and still pull out the win? Better yet, have him lose the last hand but then shoot the bad guy in the face before uttering some sort of gambling related quip.
"I see your pair and raise you... three bullets in your face."
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones is another film that equates spying with Brad Pitt-winning-the-lottery good luck. Obi-Wan is crawling around through some caverns, and overhears a couple of the villains talking about exactly what he needed to find out. While it's true that Obi-Wan is actively trying to get info instead of wandering around (like some sort of a wizard) the bad guys are telling each other things they should logically already know. Actually, that brings us to ...
Attentive readers will notice a subtler form of the peekaboo logic at work in the Obi-Wan example. There's no logical chain of events that could possibly have lead to the behavior exhibited by the men who give Obi-Wan the information he's after. This is probably the logical blind spot that Hollywood is best at exploiting, and it's not just armed guards having convenient conversations while our hero eavesdrops. The plot forwarding robots are sometimes the greatest characters in some of the most successful movies ever made, and sometimes it's, well, everyone in the movie ...
Entering Ghostbusters II, the last time we saw the only people to have ever battled the paranormal in the history of the world, they had just saved Manhattan from a giant cartoon made out of marshmallow. They did this, it should be noted, in the middle of Manhattan. It must have been a giant media spectacle, with all four of the Busters being hailed as heroes.
Yet, at the beginning of the sequel, we find Dan Akroyd and Ernie Hudson working as birthday clowns to make ends meet. That's quite a fall for the only people to have ever saved the world from the undead forces of darkness. The only explanation we get are random accusations that they staged the crisis they saved New York from. The one with a giant man made out of marshmallow walking down the street in front of TV cameras and millions of stunned eye-witnesses. But because their fall from grace happens off-screen, it doesn't have to make sense.
Some off-screen moments aren't worth exploring.
The same can be said for the behavior exhibited by some of the most iconic characters of all time. At the end of Halloween, we never stop to wonder why Michael Myers took the time to carefully spring load every closet in the house like a corpse-filled can of snakes. At the end of Usual Suspects, we never stop to wonder why the most powerful criminal in the world--a man who people are willing to pay millions of dollars to have described to them--drops dozens of potentially incriminating clues while waiting to post bail on a relatively minor weapons charge.
And not to pick on the Die Hard terrorists, but their Plan A is "bust into a company's holiday party, ask for the boss to identify himself (since you haven't bothered to research what he looks like), threaten him into giving you the code and shoot him if he doesn't comply." When that plan somehow goes awry, they're forced to go to Plan B, "Buy our computer guy enough time to hack into the vault." It's worth pointing out that they'd have all the time in the world if they hadn't just pretended to stage a terror attack on an office Christmas Party.
But rather than formulate a set of circumstances that would logically require the crew of indiscriminately accented Europeans to take over a Christmas party, the writers said fuck it, nobody's gonna notice. And the reason we keep bringing up Die Hard is, they were right. We've watched that movie hundreds of times, and never realized how baffling the terror plot was because they never showed them hatching the plot. When we first saw Usual Suspects, we had to pick our jaw up off the floor, and use it to scoop our brains back into our heads. And it's not just us. The members of the Academy watch movies for a living, and they gave The Usual Suspects the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
So apparently, the quality of a movie has nothing to do with how smart it is. The only thing that really matters is whether it's the right kind of stupid.
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For more plot devices Hollywood loves to use, check out 6 Baffling Mistakes Every Movie Criminal Makes6 Baffling Mistakes Every Movie Criminal Makes. Or check out Hollywood insanity as it looks in real life, in 5 Real Bank Heists Ripped Right Out of the Movies.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 12.18.2009) to see the plot holes of the Internet.