Lousy character logic in movies and/or TV shows
July 13, 2018 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by this screenshot of a tumblr post, what are some of the most egregious examples of sloppy screenplay work that have resulted in a TV or movie character doing something or drawing conclusions that no actual person would ever do IRL?

The examples from the linked post are centered around "the moment you knew a screenplay was written by a man" (ex: when a female character gets out of her car in a dimly lit parking lot at midnight to confront a strange, aggressive man), and that's a fine jumping off point, but I'd be interested in any kind of blatant examples of a poorly researched and/or workshopped screenplay that has characters making such terrible or unfathomable decisions that they just totally wrench you out of the willing suspension of disbelief.

Obviously, the horror movie genre has elevated poor character decision making skills to an art form and a trope, but I'd be open to seeing any particularly heinous examples from this genre as well.

Note: I don't wish to shame any particular screenwriters—it's not an easy thing to do, and TV writers in particular are under a lot of pressure to perform and churn out a lot of creative work very quickly. Even the best ones might have the occasional blind spot or passing case of magical thinking when it comes to character motivation. No judgment here. :)
posted by helloimjennsco to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This is basically every episode of Riverdale.
posted by to recite so charmingly at 12:20 PM on July 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ah, heck. Okay, here is the link to the whole article. It is the fifth one down.
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:27 PM on July 13, 2018

Mod note: Fixed the link, carry on.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:30 PM on July 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Roger Ebert called a particular flavor of this sloppy writing the hell out in his reviews, dubbing it The Idiot Plot.

"The Idiot Plot, of course, is any plot that would be resolved in five minutes if everyone in the story were not an idiot."

There's a ton of great examples in a variety of media at TV Tropes.
posted by amicamentis at 12:30 PM on July 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

Well just recently in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, right after watching the Indoraptor* eat its way through a neo gothic mansion, Ted Levine steps into a small confined space with said Indoraptor and puts his dumb ass hand in its mouth to pull out a tooth for his not-related-to-the-story-except-for-this-one-moment tooth collection.

*a genetically engineered dinosaur that is half raptor half Indominous Rex**
**a genetically engineered dinosaur that is roughly half t-rex half raptor*** (that went on a rampage just a few years ago eating its way through a theme park)
***the dinosaur that ate its way through 2 books and 3 movies
posted by phunniemee at 12:34 PM on July 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

My personal white whale of sloppy, nonsensical plot is Flightplan with Jodie Foster.


The entire, and I mean entire, crux of the thriller plot revolves around the fact that no other passenger on a commercial flight happened to see Jodie Foster's kid on the plane. Who she was not trying to hide at all. If even one single person had been like "oh yeah, that kid, I hoped I wouldn't have to sit next to her" the entire film would have been over. It's the least likely thing ever.

Oh I still think about it and get mad.
posted by amicamentis at 12:35 PM on July 13, 2018 [16 favorites]

In the BBC version of Sherlock, the episode "A Scandal in Belgravia" has a dominatrix blackmailing the royal family with photos that only exist on her phone.

She is negotiating with Mycroft at the end:

MYCROFT: We destroy this, then. No-one has the information.

IRENE: Fine. Good idea ... unless there are lives of British citizens depending on the information you’re about to burn.

MYCROFT: Are there?

IRENE: Telling you would be playing fair. I’m not playing any more.

This to me sounds like the weakest possible reason for the government to not destroy the phone and yet somehow it works.

(Note: this is one of my favorite episodes and yet that rationale doesn't make any sense to me)
posted by amicamentis at 12:48 PM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

ugh pretty much the entirety of Mad Dogs is this. I cannot recommend it because I found the whole show so annoying to watch because all characters were made of idiot ball and completely unsympathetic.
posted by supermedusa at 12:49 PM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I had a really hard time getting into Prometheus and Alien: Covenant because these were supposedly intelligent and highly trained scientists/astronauts just...walking onto an alien planet which they know next to nothing about, deciding the air is "breathable!" and then REMOVING THEIR HELMETS, SOMETIMES TO GET A CLOSER LOOK AT ALIEN LIFEFORMS AND ALSO TOUCHING THE LIFEFORMS. and then when idiot crew members get infected there is obviously no quarantine procedure in place, they just haul them back onto the ship and start treating them in sickbay like they've got regular old influenza or something.

I mean, NASA quarantined astronauts returning from the MOON for the first few moon missions because they were concerned about the astronauts bringing back foreign contaminants, even though they were all pretty sure it was unlikely. This is Biosafety 101 stuff.
posted by castlebravo at 1:29 PM on July 13, 2018 [40 favorites]

Full House? See: Full House Reviewed. The two that come to mind are: 1) when Michelle is in a museum, and there's no security guard, and she accidentally taps a dinosaur skeleton, causing it to completely collapse; 2) At the one of one episode, the Music is playing and Jesse tells Michelle, "next time you have a problem with a classmate, tell a grownup," when in fact she had told a grownup at the beginning of the episode.
posted by Melismata at 1:50 PM on July 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Netflix's Lost In Space reboot was full of supposedly smart people sent out to colonize/do-space-stuff who did really stupid things that they should have known better.

You can find the threads on FanFare.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:53 PM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Listing the absurdities in Sherlock would take all day, so aside from "A Scandal in Belgravia" that was mentioned above, there was John and Sherlock being handcuffed together, followed by John stealing a gun from a constable. Do British police carry guns? There's no possible way for anyone to find out the answer to such a question.

This is before the blackmailer who didn't need evidence because he could remember things and the evil twin with mind control powers. In S2, it was supposed to be set in a heightened version of 2010s London, not in complete WTFland.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:07 PM on July 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Addressing Phunnimiee's comment, here. To be fair re: Indoraptor dentistry, that character actually hadn't seen the dino eat anything yet--he's responsible for letting it loose on that mansion owing to his slapdash dino tooth extraction. Also, that ridiculous red herring tooth collecting conceit is so terrible, so egregious, so obviously contrived ONLY so that the Indoraptor can be loosed on the horrible house that it's the absolute PERFECT nonsense for that nonsensical film, vaulting the whole movie into a whole new arena of camp that can only be matched by the worst creature features of the 1950s.

Would any reasonable person extract dino teeth? No. Would any reasonable person clone their grandchild for funsies? No. Would any reasonable person train a dinosaur with lasers? No. Would any reasonable dino trainer then train that laser on THEMSELVES rather than, say, a weathervane? No, no, for god's sake no.

Best movie of the summer.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 2:37 PM on July 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

I laughed when amicamentis mentioned Flightplan, because I had immediately thought of the same movie. Here's an accurate synopsis.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:57 PM on July 13, 2018 [15 favorites]

Ocean's 8 has Anne Hathaway's character, a famous actress and key celebrity guest at the Met Ball, doing her own makeup (and possibly hair?) before the event. I mean, even C-list Instagram celebrities will often get a professional to do their hair/makup/nails/etc before, say, a cheesy Ciroc vodka promotional event on a random Wednesday. This is the friggin' Met. No one is just winging it with a lipstick they happened to have in their purse.

In The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne tricks several of the CIA people who are chasing him into leaving their office. While they're out of the office, Bourne sneaks into the main CIA guy's office and calls him, mainly to get his voice on tape in order to unlock his voice-activated safe. At the end of the call, Bourne taunts the CIA guy by letting him know that he's tricked them and that he's currently sitting right there in his office. While Bourne is not above taunting his antagonists, in this case he sets off a giant chase sequence when the CIA guy calls for the building to be locked down. If Bourne had just kept his mouth shut, he would have been able to slip out as undetected as he was when he broke in. There was really no reason for him to have done that.
posted by mhum at 3:04 PM on July 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

In Wim Wenders's Until the End of the World, a character is handcuffed to a handhold on the door of a small airplane. Later the plane suffers engine failure due to the EMP form an exploding nuclear-powered satellite. The plane makes a hard landing in the desert. The handcuffed character's abductors are incapacitated, and she and another character have to walk to where they're going. So Wenders has her carrying the door of the plane with her across the desert.

She and the other character had the ingenuity to get the door off the plane, but not the handhold off the door.

It was an egregious example of a filmmaker obviously getting an idea for a (supposedly) evocative image - a woman carrying an airplane door to which she is handcuffed across the desert - but utterly failing to provide any plausible logic about how this could come to be.

I'm still angry about it. That movie is a piece of crap for a multitude of reasons, but that bit has always stuck with me. It really soured me on Wim Wenders.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 3:33 PM on July 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

I think established, otherwise smart characters suddenly doing nonsensical things was the basic problem with the Scandal TV series, especially in the last three or so seasons. It got so bad that many loyal viewers felt offended and disrespected by it. (As evidenced by forum comments, anyway.)

The novel The Circle has a female protagonist who, among many nonsensical acts, gets repeatedly sexually assaulted at their place of employment by a mysterious stranger who turns out to be their boss. The male author tries to make it seem consensual but he seems not to have a good understanding of the concept, or why--outside of 59 Shades books--a young educated woman probably wouldn't get caught up like that for no logical reason. Apparently when the book was adapted to film someone realized how problematic that plot thread was and it was not included in the movie.
posted by fuse theorem at 3:45 PM on July 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

The entirety of both Home Alone and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

In a Man without a Face no one asks the kid if he was abused.

The premise of Allied is that Brad Pitt must kill his wife if she is a German spy. Why wouldn't they recruit her as a double agent instead or give her false information to pass on? Why not at least question her before killing her to see if she'll give up any secrets? Also, if they must kill her, why not do it quietly? I could go on, but I'll stop now.
posted by parakeetdog at 5:41 PM on July 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Limitless (2011)... If the pills made him so smart, how come he forgot to pay his loan shark?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:11 PM on July 13, 2018

The scene in Rushmore where Miss Cross believes a high school boy’s lie about being in a car accident. A boy who climbs through her window and into her bed.
posted by kapers at 6:22 PM on July 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

This comment made me flash on my pet peeve in the original Jurassic Park movie/book, and the "they can't make lysine so they'll never survive in the wild without our lysine supplements." Lysine is indeed a building block of life, which is why it is in literally every living thing. If you eat literally anything you will be eating lysine.

There are many naturally occurring species that can't make lysine, including Homo sapiens.

n1. I know this is borderline "science" vs "character" issue but the character is a biologist and the in-world way they escape is by eating naturally occurring lysine so it counts, at least for me. "Life finds a way" --> yeah by eating food, for chrissakes.

n2. I assume Crichton had some garbled memory of this being a strategy with bacteria in a petri dish. It works fine in that context. If the bacteria could get up and raid your refrigerator it would fail there too.

n3. I know I'm going on too long, but among the correct ways to do this are a classic of pulp fiction, not to mention Dune: poison them and then feed them the antidote. In biochemical terms you could default some cell-killing pathway to "always on" so they die as soon as they stop taking their food that's dosed with the life-saving drug that inhibits that pathway.

posted by mark k at 6:33 PM on July 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

In The Thing (1982), they're in Antarctica traveling by helicopter to one of the bases that has been attacked and blown up and the helecopter pilot has MILES of open, clear, flat glacier field to land in but instead sets down right in the middle of the burning debris and rubble of the base.
posted by glonous keming at 7:09 PM on July 13, 2018

I'd also look at this TV Tropes page and where it links (if you have a day or two).
posted by LoonyLovegood at 2:37 AM on July 14, 2018

My dad has been all about sailboats and sailboat racing (often singlehanded) his whole adult life. If you ever meet my dad, and want to hear his melodious bass-baritone for the next few hours, just say the words, "all is lost." Apparently everything in that movie, from the smallest detail to the most significant plot point, is contrary to any plausible reality.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 3:55 AM on July 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

I still remember a specific episode of the very terrible X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunmen, in which the characters discover a prototype car, concealed for 30+ years, which is completely powered by water... and they all immediately agree with this absolutely insane logic for continuing to hide it from the world indefinitely:

"It would mean more people driving cars, more people building places for people to go in those cars. More people, more consumption, more trees cut down, more roads laid in, and what do you pave roads with, by the way? Oil. The same oil you use to lubricate a water-powered car. The same oil that goes into all the plastics that make the tail-lights, the bumpers, the tires, just about everything else on the planet these days. And we'd have four hundred million cars on the road instead of two hundred million. Doesn't sound like utopia to me."

(Today there are over one billion cars on the road, by the way.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:53 AM on July 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

Scientists are often unethical in real life, but they're almost never unethical in the way movies suspect that they are unethical.

A good example is the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Frieda Pinto's character is supposed to be a primatologist/zoo vet who is willing to do veterinary care for the baby chimpanzee that primatologist/biomedical researcher James Franco smuggled out of a high-security biomedical research facility and snuck into his attic. In reality, she would likely report him, the baby chimp would be confiscated and sent to an (accredited, not run by Draco Malfoy) facility, and that'd be that.

See also the entire STUPID AND TERRIBLE movie Splice, which features geneticists futzing around on an entirely unethical and nonsense experiment, with an N of 1.

(but content warning/spoiler:
it unexpectedly ends with the chimeric incestuous rape impregnantion of the unethical scientist by the chimeric sex-changing genetically spliced together creature that the scientist and her murdered-by-the-creature scientist husband raised instead of having children).
posted by ChuraChura at 8:50 AM on July 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think I first noticed this issue in Jesus Christ Superstar, but the problem lies with the source material. The scene shows up in every movie about Jesus and in all four gospels. The scene is known of as the Agony in the Garden and it occurs after the last supper. All the apostles are full and probably a little drunk and they all fall asleep. But Jesus isn't. He needs to go off alone and think. In Jesus Christ Superstar, Christ sings I Only Want to Say, which is the seventies musical version of second thoughts generally expressed as "Do I have to drink from this cup of poison?" The thing that bugs me about it is if he's alone in the garden, and immediately after that scene he's arrested, tried, and crucified, how the hell do the apostles know what he said when he was by himself when he said it?
posted by Stanczyk at 9:32 AM on July 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hank Azaria's version of this trope was "the idiot ball", and he'd ask who was carrying the idiot ball for the particular episode of Mad About You that they were filming, not if there would be one.

There are probably bunches in Star Trek that I can't think of off the top of my head, but one that I can was from the DS9 episode "Children of Time." The crew and their starship crash-land on some isolated planet where, because of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey, they are greeted by their descendants, because when they try to take off again they end up just going back in time 200 years instead. They figure out how to fix this, but then they have a discussion about whether or not they should fix the problem, because if they don't stay on the planet and go back in time, their descendants will have never existed. This is ridiculous for a couple of reasons: one, they're not taking into account the descendants that they'll have if they fix the problem and go back home, and two, they're also not taking into account that they're in the middle of a goddamn war [spoilers, ranting] with a ruthless alien empire that that particular crew has already had several significant encounters with--in fact, a couple of them saved the Dominion from destroying the entire Bajoran solar system and who knows how many billions of lives. (And, in fact, in a few episodes Sisko will personally stop an armada from coming through the wormhole, in a way that literally no one else in the Federation could have pulled off.) As far as I can recall, the war isn't mentioned once during the episode.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:34 PM on July 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

the five billion times that scriptwriters have used the 'oh my puppy ran away I have to get him' scenario, leading a whole population to risk their existence to save the dumb idiot child chasing his puppy.
posted by Enid Lareg at 11:44 AM on July 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

I just re-watched Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace with my children, so this thread is relevant to my interests.
posted by turkeybrain at 7:17 AM on July 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I didn't see this in the linked database, but the last few episodes of Friends revolves around a plot line of Rachel moving to Paris for a job.

Rachel, who has a baby with Ross. So... she's planning on moving to Paris with Ross' baby. Without Ross. And somehow Ross has no say in this. As she is leaving for her flight to Paris, Rachel says that her mom is bringing her daughter (and did I mention this is also Ross' daughter) later in a few days and there's not a single mention about Ross being unhappy about being separated from his daughter or anything.

This is the same Ross who did not move to London to live with Emily because one of his stated reasons is that he can't leave his son Ben who lives in New York.

It still makes me mad.
posted by like_neon at 9:07 AM on July 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is this the same Friends where the characters are either unemployed or in fairly unremarkable jobs, yet live in a Manhattan apartment and can fly first class to Europe on a whim?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:31 AM on July 19, 2018

Yes, which is why it's even more egregious when it makes me say "Too far, Friends. TOO FAR."
posted by like_neon at 8:59 AM on July 19, 2018

The finale to ten years of How I Met Your Mother, but the people acting contrary to all reason are in the writers' room, not in front of the camera.
posted by tzikeh at 6:26 AM on July 20, 2018

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