Akiva Goldsman Strikes Again

Well, “The Da Vinci Code” is finally out in theaters, and it looks like my hunch was correct; Rotten Tomatoes has it with only 16% positive reviews, putting it at the same level of cinematic artistry as last year’s epic films “Doom” (19%) and “The Dukes of Hazzard” (15%). (For 2004, RT found no movies as poorly reviewed as “Da Vinci”.)

So how do you turn a mega-selling potboiler into a big, steaming pile? Undoubtedly there’s going to be people blaming director Ron Howard, but there’s a much more likely suspect: screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.

Goldsman, who wrote the screenplay for “Da Vinci Code”, has been cranking out reliably awful scripts since the mid-90s:

Writer – filmography

  1. I Am Legend (2007) (announced)
  2. The Da Vinci Code (2006) (screenplay)
  3. Cinderella Man (2005) (screenplay)
  4. I, Robot (2004) (screenplay)
  5. A Beautiful Mind (2001) (written by)
  6. Practical Magic (1998) (screenplay)
  7. Lost in Space (1998) (written by)
  8. Batman & Robin (1997) (written by)
  9. A Time to Kill (1996) (screenplay)
  10. Batman Forever (1995) (screenplay)
  11. Silent Fall (1994) (written by)
  12. The Client (1994) (screenplay)

With the possible exception of “A Beautiful Mind”, that’s an unbroken stretch of big-budget Hollywood stink bombs. (Maybe “I Am Legend” will be Goldsman’s big break into non-suckiness. Somehow I doubt it.) The average Rotten Tomatoes score for an Akiva Goldsman-penned movie is a whopping 46%.

Goldsman proudly told an interviewer from the LA Times that he does as little thinking as possible while writing:

He follows what seems to be the classic rule book on how to become a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He swears by screenwriting guru Robert McKee, eschews writing original scripts, and worships at the altar of the three-act structure.
“The screenplays I write are formally very predictable,” Goldsman says. “They’re essentially the one-page version of a clothing dummy. They have two legs, a middle, two arms and a head. I can dress them up pretty on a good day, but the structure is simple, and I like that.”

(Robert McKee is the paint-by-numbers screenwriting teacher who wrote “Story” and was lampooned in the riotously funny movie “Adaptation“.)

Interestingly, “A Beautiful Mind” — which earned Goldsman an Oscar for his screenplay — is the only screenplay he’s written since 1994’s “Silent Fall” that he didn’t adapt from someone else’s original work. So anyone with any sense of probability could probably have guessed that the “Da Vinci Code” screenplay would be pretty ripe as soon as they heard Goldsman was attached to it.


Sandy Smith

May 20, 2006
7:19 am

I, Robot was not awful. It wasn’t Blade Runner II, but it wasn’t awful. Adaptation was funny until he started taking the third act seriously–for the entire third act, at which it was the bore in the room you really wish you hadn’t gotten stuck with. And it made me painfully aware of how much Nicolas Cage is unpleasant to watch.

Jason Lefkowitz

May 20, 2006
1:58 pm

Wasn’t “I, Robot” the same movie that managed to jettison most of the original story, but found room for a product-placement plug for “vintage” Converse sneakers from 2004?
As for “Adaptation”: oh, pish. It was funny as hell.

Joe Dailey

May 21, 2006
2:45 pm

I heard somewhere that the “I Robot” script was originally for a “original” sci-fi story and the studio grafted the name and a few bits of the book on only because they owned the rights to it and could not figure out how to make the real book into a movie. I guess they felt a series of short stories was to complicated for people to watch on the screen. So I won’t watch the movie, whether it sucks or not.
I thougth the last 15 minutes of “Adaptation” sucked, And I thought the last few minutes of “Being John Malkovich” (sp?) was dissapointing, although I loved the concepts and the rest of the movies. Maybe its just hard to end a movie.
And Maybe, just Maybe “Davinci Code” sucks because the book sucked. I can’t think of a book I hated more after reading it, except maybe “On the Road.” Both books, in very different ways, were full of pretentious B.S.


May 21, 2006
4:28 pm

I, Robot was a collection of short stories that would be difficult, if not impossible, to make into an entertaining movie. Asimov’s stuff is notoriously talk-oriented. The movie, ironically, bears the same relationship to the story that “Adaptation” does to “The Orchid Thief” or whatever it was based on…some loose elements taken from it and turned into something else.
So you just have to take it on its face as an action movie, and it actually succeeds. It’s not great art, but it’s not “Hudson Hawk” either. By not having pretentions, it saves itself ridicule.
“Adaptation”‘s ending actually reminds me of a four-year-old who has just heard his first fart joke and repeats it endlessly because he is so overwhelmed with the brilliance of it.
“You see, it’s *ironic* that Kaufman ends with the formulaic ending to his genius quirky movie. It’s Genius! You see, becuase the third act is like the scriptwriter course he mocks. That makes it ironic. I mean, who else would think to put a stupid action ending on an art flick? It’s just dripping with irony! The irony comes from adapting…get it…what he was mocking. So by using the third act structure of the screenwriting course he was mocking, he’s ironically commenting even more on it! Genius! By becoming it he mocks it further! Genius! It’s irony! Faaaaaart!”
…and so on for 1/3 of a feature film’s length. 2/3 great, 1/3 shit. So it’s an adequeate film in total, but no better.
Original material counts for a lot. The same guy who wrote “Election” also wrote “Sideways” and “Jurassic Park III”–two films that would have benefitted from being shorts in which the characters are introduced, placed on an island, and promptly eaten. Come to think of it, dinosaurs eating everybody would have been a better ending to “Adaptation” and just as ironic–but with the added bonus of surrealism. And brevity.

Jason Lefkowitz

May 21, 2006
5:54 pm

“[I, Robot], ironically, bears the same relationship to the story that “Adaptation” does to “The Orchid Thief” or whatever it was based on…some loose elements taken from it and turned into something else.”
True. But Joe’s reaction might make more sense to you if you imagine how people would have reacted had “Adaptation” been titled “The Orchid Thief” and all the marketing played up Orlean’s book, rather than it being an original story by Charlie Kaufman loosely based on said book.
“Original material counts for a lot. The same guy who wrote “Election” also wrote “Sideways” and “Jurassic Park III”–two films that would have benefitted from being shorts in which the characters are introduced, placed on an island, and promptly eaten.”
Alexander Payne must have gone for the long green to get involved with JP3, because otherwise his output is pretty consistent in tone and style – “Sideways”, “About Schmidt”, “Election”, and “Citizen Ruth” are more alike than they are different.


May 21, 2006
10:50 pm

I did like JP3 more than JP2.
In fact, I think I would rather watch JP3 on any given sunday afternoon more than Sideways and About Schmidt. Election was a perfect movie, I have to say.
And I know the ending to adaptation was suposed to be ironic, but it was just stupid, it didn’t work.
Of course, I don’t like Dan Brown, so maybe I’m just full of it myself


May 22, 2006
12:07 am

I liked A Beautiful Mind, an awful lot… and Practical Magic may have been a bomb, but I loved it… the book was odd, to me, anyway. Maybe you’re just confused. 😉
And, I’ll second the JP3 love – it’s pretty damn funny…

Joe Teti

June 14, 2006
8:24 am

Mr Lefkowitz,
The last I saw, the “DaVinci Code” had earned over $550 million dollars worldwide. Pretty good for a bomb….eh!
Joe Teti

Movie Goer

February 3, 2013
11:35 pm

Funny to read this review in 2013, after all of these movies became box office hits.

Makes you wonder about the moron that wrote this review.

You got every single one of these “stinkbombs” wrong.

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