Cheato

I’ve read an October 2009 draft of Allan Loeb‘s Untitled Cheating Project (a.k.a., Your Cheating Heart), which will costar Vince Vaughn and Kevin James under director Ron Howard. The Universal-funded Imagine project, reportedly based on an idea by producer Brian Grazer, will shoot in Chicago later this year or next. I’m mentioning this because I didn’t much care for Loeb’s script — in fact I almost hated it — and I’m figuring if I say something now it might influence the development. Or not. I don’t care either way.

I’m not going to give the story away — just the basic set-up. Vaughn and James will play Chicago-based engine designers Ronnie Valentine and Isaac Backman, respectively, whose significant others are Beth (Ronnie’s live-in girlfriend) and Geneva (Isaac’s wife). The central tension is about Ronnie accidentally discovering that Geneva is playing around on Isaac, and the anxieties and trepidations that stem from his not knowing what to do. Should he just blurt out the bad news to Isaac, his business partner and longtime best friend? And if he does, will Isaac somehow blame him for Geneva’s betrayal? (Guilt by association.) Should he mind his own business and stay out of the lives of others?

I was immediately repelled by Ronnie’s response because — hello? — there’s only one thing to do. In such a situation his loyalty would be to his longtime friend, not the wife, and so one way or the other he’d have to share what he suspects. No guy would have to think about this. He’d start out by stressing to his pal that he doesn’t really “know” anything but that he’s seen something disturbing and that maybe something’s up, etc. And then he’d suggest that the friend might want to hire a shamus to learn the facts or whatever. But come what may you must share what you’ve seen and/or suspect.

The fact that jabbering Ronnie — a guy who’s in denial about almost everything, and who fibs all the time like Alibi Ike and has trust issues with everyone — hems and haws throughout the story is infuriating. By my sights the guy has no convictions or cojones, and who wants to spend 110 minutes with a 13 year-old who mostly goes “homina-homina-homina” when faced with a serious issue?

When I heard about this film I thought — hoped — that it might be a darkly comedic riff on Harold Pinter‘s Betrayal — i.e., about a guy having a longterm secret love affair with his best friend’s (or closet business associate’s) wife or live-in girlfriend. Maybe a little Betrayal stew with some Damage seasoning, minus the father-son dynamic. A story about how a heavy attraction for the wrong woman can sometimes get into your blood like a virus, and how sometimes there’s no shaking it off. But not a tragedy — a telling of this odd tale in a jazzy-clumsy comedic way.

For me, a story about a serious emotional deception that goes on for several weeks or months or whatever would be fascinating. A comedy about how betrayal can happen between people who’ve grown up together and genuinely care for each other but at the same time are starting to faintly dislike each other, and how friends and lovers who are growing apart often seem to cut their ties in a passive aggressive way (i.e., by indirectly persuading the other person to reject them).

All to say that that Loeb’s October 2009 draft is a real drag because it’s about a guy-guy (i.e, similar to the characters Vaughn played in The Breakup and The Wedding Crashers) who doesn’t know the first thing about being a solid, stand-up friend when the situation demands this. I was thinking as I read it that I don’t know anyone like this (i.e., an antsy little child), but maybe beer-head and onion-ring guys who watch the Super Bowl are like this when they find out that their best friend’s wife is doing the out-of-bounds nasty.