6 Classic Movies That Cheated To Make Characters Look Smart
A movie character is only as smart as the film school graduate thinking it up. It can be tough to double check the nuts and bolts of all the super-smart things the character says and does, but that's where an old writing trick called "hoping to Christ no one notices" comes in -- that is, just make the circumstances around a character stupider without actually making them smart, and no one will know the difference.
This technique works so well that you probably didn't even notice that some of the cleverest cinematic masterminds ever are complete dullards. Like how ...
James Bond Totally Sucks At Poker
Besides upgrading Bond from dad-chested Pierce Brosnan to husky-eyed sociopath Daniel Craig, Casino Royale also gave us a more "grounded" universe than its tsunami-surfing, rocketeer predecessors. This was a post-9/11 Bond steeped in reality -- and yet not without a hand of poker so statistically bonkers that it might as well take place in a moon lair.
The climactic throwdown goes like this: Bond sits at the poker table just as the dealer announces the big blind (mandatory bet) as $1 million. As the scene skips ahead, the four remaining players end up balls-deep in a $24 million pot with an ace of hearts and the four, six, and eight of spades on the table. Then the dealer puts down a final card ... another ace!
This prompts everyone to go all-in, bringing the pot to the snowman-made-of-cocaine heights of $150 million. Guy #1 shows a king-high flush, but Guy #2 has pocket eights, giving him a full house of 8s and aces. Next comes our scar-faced villain, who harbors an ace and a six, giving him a much better full house.
Bond, being Bond, is last to show his hand against this seemingly unbeatable situation ...
... revealing the five and seven of spades needed to give him a straight freaking flush for all the marbles. BOOM!
Here's the thing: The reason Bond's dramatic reveal is so, well, dramatic is that it's completely unexpected that a pair of low cards would actually win the game. It's statistically ludicrous that Bond won with what he had. And while it seems "smart" that he would surprise everyone like that, for anyone who knows how to play poker, the real reason it's shocking is because no idiot would hold on to those cards in the first place.
Here's a chart of the statistical likelihood of certain Texas Hold 'em hands winning a game -- 5/7 being on the very low side of probability compared to the other players' hands:
And since Bond wasn't dealt his straight flush until after the pot was already at $24 million, it means that he had been betting big on a hand with insanely low odds of winning. When the blinds are $1 million, 5/7 isn't even worth playing with. Any normal player would have folded that hand before the flop.
Sure, Bond's cards worked this one time, but that was dumb luck. In the poker world, this is called a bad beat -- when a considerably stupider player stays in with a statistically impossible pair of cards and somehow manages to win against more skilled players. Bond isn't some amazing strategist, but rather the spy equivalent of some fanny-pack-wearing tourist blindly spinning a roulette wheel, randomly winning, and then attributing that win to skill. And for that, he deserves all the testicle beatings in the world.
Zemo's Plan In Captain America: Civil War Is The Dumb Ravings Of A Madman
The antagonist in Civil War is Zemo, a clever little wiener who frames Cap's sidekick, Bucky, for the bombing of the already controversial Sokovia Accords, causing a deeper rift between the Avengers. While the heroes are hashing out their drama, Zemo steals a Hydra brainwashing manual to further turn the Buckster into a heel. He does this by sneaking into the now-captured Bucky's holding cell under a fake identity, waiting for an EMP to kill all the cameras, and then triggering him with secret spy words.
Cap eventually escapes with Bucky to a Siberian Hydra base where Zemo plans to awaken some super soldiers. Meanwhile, Iron Man wises up and manages to independently learn the Hydra HQ's location from an imprisoned Falcon. The heroes come together for a good ol' team-up ... only to discover that Zemo's ruse had nothing to do with awakening soldiers and everything to do with ratting out Bucky as the one who killed Tony's parents. The entire super-feud is thus cranked up to 11.
While he may have been caught in the end, Zemo successfully used his intellect to break up the band. All without a single superpower!
Correction: Zemo had one superpower -- and that was the power of amazingly dumb luck. After all, the entirety of his plan hinged on Captain America and Tony Stark independently discovering the secret Hydra base ... and doing so at the exact same time. If Tony didn't figure it out, or if he didn't get the information he needed out of Falcon, or if he waited a little too long to get there, Zemo would have been caught by Cap and the movie would have ended without a Steve/Tony punch-fest.
Or, how lucky was he that no one was physically guarding Bucky while he brainwashed him in the first place? Or that Steve and Tony disagreed on the Sokovia Accords to begin with? Or that the Sokovia Accords even existed at all? Keep in mind -- Zemo flat out says he's been planning this for a year, which was long before the U.N. got all up in Cap's business. Dude had no control over the ideological challenges going on within the Avengers, or the outcome of those battles -- meaning that his entire plan boiled down to sitting in some icy lair and just hoping things would coincidentally work his way. Lucky for him (and fans of superhero violence everywhere) that they did!
The Ending Of Se7en HAD To Be Improvised At The Last Minute
As we recently pointed out, the final morning of serial killer John Doe's master plan was the mother of all messy errands. But of course, that stamina was all worth our jaws dropping at the reveal that Brad Pitt's character, Detective Mills, was one of the final "sins" in his themed murder spree. Specifically, after Doe killed Mills' wife, the detective became "wrath" to Doe's murderous "envy" of his perfect life. It's like poetry and junk -- only the kind that leaves everyone feeling terrible. Like a limerick.
It's the ideal cherry on a meticulous sundae of horrendous slaughter -- as the deaths leading up to this moment involved setups no less elaborate. There was a drawn-out force-feeding torture of "gluttony," a custom-made stab dildo for "lust," and the unforgettable year-long emaciation process behind "sloth." Remember that bleak shit? Considering his attention to detail and planning, John Doe could have been the freaking president if it weren't for all the psycho diaries and bloodlust.
[Editorial Note: Not so sure that would disqualify him anymore.]
Hey, did I mention that the movie opens with Mills taking the murders as his first ever case? The film takes place in the single week that Doe reveals his months-in-the-making misdeeds ... the same week Mills just recently moved to the city with his soon-to-be-decapitated wife.
So just when the heck did our methodical killer decide this completely new guy would be the apogee of his madness? Remember, there's no way that John Doe knew who would be investigating his murders ... or that Mills was moving to the area, or even existed in the first place. He had no idea a year ago when he was setting up his sloth killings, or a few months ago when he was special ordering the knife strap-on.
So what did he originally have planned for the "wrath" and "envy" murders? Was he just hoping some hotshot detective with a happy marriage would take his case ... or did Mills cure his serial killer writer's block? What would he have done if both detectives were unmarried? Just hope they had a pet they really liked? Once you realize there's no way his final act was planned, suddenly the whole "my sin is envy" aspect seems less like a profound self-examination and more like a shoddy last-minute book report.
The Robbers In Inside Man Lucked Out That There Were Two Busty Ladies In The Bank
Like every good plot twist, the elaborate bank robbery plan in Inside Man is sheer genius so long as you don't think about it very hard. The scheme is elegant: Clive Owen and his fellow thieves bust into a fancy Manhattan bank dressed like painters -- only to pull a 20+ hostage shell game by dressing their captives in the same uniforms as them.
When it inevitably hits the fan, the actual robbers flood out of the bank dressed the same as the captors -- giving the police no clue who was actually part of the heist.
After the dust clears and the hostages are detained, the case ends up being thrown out because no one is able to single out anyone else. As Owen's character asserts at the start of the film, it appears to be the "perfect bank robbery." Except for one detail ...
Boobs. Seriously. To better illustrate how no one is able to single each other out, the film jokingly highlights the fact that one of the bank robbers fits the description of a large-chested, dark-haired lady. In a bumbling moment of hilarity, detective Denzel Washington awkwardly explains this to the only two hostages fitting that profile ...
... before meekly moving on like he didn't just freaking boil his suspects down to two people. It's an act of police stupidity we've pointed out in the past -- but it also begs the question as to why the hell the robbers would have taken that risk in the first place.
How lucky were Owen and his gang that there just happened to be a hostage that actually fit that physical description? Not only that, but prior to the robbery, the non-guilty lady was considerate enough to make a very memorable scene in the bank lobby by talking too loud on her phone. That's a hell of a chesty bullet to dodge. Not to discriminate, but if the entire plan hinged on them blending in with the hostages ... why bring someone who physically stands out in a very memorable way?
Had there not been another woman fitting that description, this entire "perfect" robbery would have fallen apart because of one pair of sweater puppets. And speaking of total boobs ...
The Villain's Plan In The Da Vinci Code Is More Nonsensical Than The Joker's
Before he became the Frodo of dadporn films, Robert Langdon's (Tom Hanks) humble adventure started when a secret Holy Grail guardian was found dead and surrounded by a series of elaborate clues as his dying message -- some more direct than others.
While the police interpret Langdon as the killer, the actual culprit is a mysterious albino monk being controlled by a double-mysterious bishop being controlled by a triple-mysterious "Teacher" leaking information about a secret Grail society. And as Langdon runs from the law, it becomes clear that he was beckoned for his hotshot symbology skills in order to take charge of an Indiana Jones-style Grail quest. After finding an old cryptex linked to the location of the famed blood holster, our heroes contact a Grail fanboy named Teabing who happens to live in the area and has handy access to an expositional slideshow about the Grail being evidence of Jesus's hidden bloodline.
But as the quest unfolds, it turns out that Teabing himself was the "Teacher" the whole time -- both helping our heroes and causing their plight as he attempts to weed out the true origin of the Grail. This kindly old man was secretly the puppetmaster behind the guardian's death! Who knew Ian McKellen could play bad guys?
Let's take a look at Teabing's plan -- the crux of which being that Tom Hanks shows up at his door in the middle of the night on the run from the cops. But as he later himself admits, this moment was pure luck ... making the entire adventure completely bonus to what he originally had in mind. While that could be an acceptable coincidence, the reveal comes after Teabing had already woven a web of theatrics in which his assistant pretends to double-cross him, gains the albino's trust, and is then poisoned by Teabing himself.
So, uh ... just what the hell was his original plan? Remember, it was the murdered Grail guardian who inadvertently framed Langdon. He left clues to the cryptex, which then led Langdon to seek Teabing's help. It was just by staggering chance that Teabing's action (leaking the guardian's identity to the bishop) resulted in the star of Bosom Buddies showing up at his door. So was all the murder and double-crossing just an improv with his butler, or did he have this weird contingency plan on the back burner? What would have happened if Langdon hadn't shown up at his house? Without that random coincidence, he'd still just be sitting in his old man mansion gabbing about theology with the help.
Hannibal Lecter Is A Clown
You heard me. Hannibal Lecter -- as in the iconic Anthony Hopkins predator -- is a big stupid clown of a man. I've taken dumps more Machiavellian than him.
Let's walk through the events of The Silence Of The Lambs -- which begins when Clarice Starling is asked to interview Lecter in order to profile serial killer Buffalo Bill. In his 10 minutes of screen time, Dr. Lecter earned a cinematic reputation as being the cunning mastermind who not only helps catch Bill using his psychiatry skills but also manages to use his manipulation and guile to bust himself out of jail in the process.
The film ends with him in some faraway paradise dressed like the lawyer from Jurassic Park, strolling off like a swag genius.
Go back and watch the film again, but this time take a mental note of how each of Hannibal's many "accomplishments" falls into place. The answer you'll find is that every advantage happens to Lecter, and not because of him.
Let's start with how he helps catch Buffalo Bill. It's not because he's an expert profiler; rather, Hannibal just knows who he is. As revealed in the film, Bill was a friend of one of Lecter's patients ... the knowledge of which he uses to reverse engineer a series of riddles for Clarice to figure out. He's basically a prison snitch, making a deal with a senator who -- by pure coincidence -- has a daughter kidnapped by Bill. What luck! A killer he literally knows just happens to kidnap a powerful person's family member, giving him the one-in-a-million leverage for a less-guarded facility.
And if that isn't enough of a freebie, the jail warden accidentally leaves a pen in his cell while this whole ordeal goes down. Lecter is practically handed a lock-picking kit due to a lapse of judgment.
This enables Han-man to take out the guards and then pretend to be one of his own victims by wearing his face ...
... which, when you think about it, is a stupid lucky plan. What if the paramedics had sedated him? What if they had tried to treat his wounds and noticed the ruse? There are a million ways this plan could have gone wrong -- but luckily it was handled by the dumbest people ever. This makes Hannibal a criminal lottery winner, not a puppetmaster.
So to recap: a) Lecter happened to know a notorious serial killer's identity, b) that killer happened to kidnap a senator's daughter, c) he happened to be handled by the most inept prison staff ever. For all these years he's been praised as one of the most formidable horror villains of all time, but the dude's really just a lucky loon making baby mouth sounds.
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