Return to Roulez (thing)

The legendary unmade Mille Bornes film that, like John Carpenter's anti-hero Snake Plissken, keeps showing up in unexpected places, and prompting the same reaction: "I thought you were dead!"

In the early 1990s, writer Brett Sonnenschein took the zine world by storm with a tautly written fanzine named Roulez, "for and about the serious Mille Bornes player." The zine's arch yet deadpan style appealed not only to fans of the card game, but to those who thought that such fanatical writing was an ironic pose, and to those who believed Sonnenschein was making the game up. The zine included a serialized adventure story, "Balance," a fictional account of the early years of Edmond Dujardin, the game's inventor.

A graduate of Northwestern University's film program, Sonnenschein had plenty of contacts in Los Angeles, but it was a random trade through the mail with a writer that led to a screenplay.

A copy of Roulez made its way into the hands of Adam Felber, a writer for PBS's Wishbone. Felber is likely the one who got the zine into the hands of writers in Los Angeles via the comedy/improv circuit. No one is sure if the first draft of the screenplay was done based on riffs at the L.A. Improv Festival in '96, but by 1997, Bob Odenkirk and Robert Smigel had written a spec script based on "Balance," and had Ben Stiller interested, but Red Hour let its option on it expire and the project was presumed dead.

But Charlie Kaufman had other ideas. In 1999, he began a rewrite, wanting to capture some of the deadpan quality of Sonnenschein's original serial. In an homage to the game itself, Kaufman reportedly used a Mille Bornes deck to add obstacles to the plot. Kaufman built upon the odd assortment of historical characters (the original serial featured Ho Chi Minh, Joe Gallo, and Dwight Eisenhower) and detoured the peripatetic Dujardin into encounters with Juan Peron, Sophia Loren, and Hedy Lamarr. The alternate history envisaged by the story appealed to director Michel Gondry, who attached himself to the project, but StudioCanal thought a film based on a French card game would have limited appeal, and they asked Kaufman and Gondry to work with Spike Jonze on a different script (Human Nature).

James Schamus at Good Machine picked up the option, which is how the script reappeared at Focus Features briefly in 2002. Focus attempted to woo Sofia Coppola with it, suggesting a period movie in an alternate timeline might be right up her alley. Coppola, however, was already hitching her rising star to loftier projects (in hindsight, Edmond Dujardin might have been a more successful subject than Marie Antoinette for her).

For a while, it looked like Roulez was dead, again, but in 2004 IFC Films announced that Michael Showalter had been attached to the script to polish it up, add more jokes, and aim the humor squarely at the aging ironic hipsters, now approaching the age of 40, who published zines in their youth. By now, the status of the screenplay was an in-joke among both writers in L.A. and the improv scene (until outlawed in 2005 by the Chicago and L.A. Improv Festivals, improvisers would create betting pools before shows as to who could work the term "coup-fourré" (a common term from the original French version of the game) into a scene first and justify it within the context of the scene.)

Among a small group of writer/comedians, the luckless script was said to invoke "the curse of Dujardin," as an explanation as to why the screenplay could not be greenlighted. (It was more fun to tell stories of a curse than to accept that a card game just wasn't enough of a kernel to build a story around).

Jon Favreau had a hold of the script for all of two weeks before Marvel Entertainment gave him Iron Man, and he dropped Roulez faster than a remedy card on a well-timed hazard. Though Favreau did not get the film made, the curse took a new turn.

Endgame Entertainment got a hold of the script next, and ran it by director Rian Johnson, who managed to contract whooping cough at the same time. In 2008, over at Hard C Productions, when Jason Reitman asked playwright Erin Cressida Wilson to do a rewrite, her liver nearly failed, and on the very day he vowed to work on the script himself, Reitman's prized Jaguar XJ12C was totaled in a rockslide. Roulez became persona non grata in Hollywood, and for years, it was only mentioned late at night at screenwriter's parties after the beer had been flowing, and experienced writers shared their career horror stories with young writers, fresh off the plane from NYU. Roulez was attributed as the reason for everything from the cancellation of Reno 911! on Comedy Central to the self-imposed exile to Cambodia of comedian Michael Richards. It was said that the taint of being connected to the script had put several other buzzworthy films into limbo or turnaround, including Jonny Quest, The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, and Untitled Carrot Top Project. (However, if you ask about one of 2008's biggest failures, everyone will acknowledge that it was not in any way the Roulez curse that took down The Love Guru.)

Some wags on the Aint It Cool News site suggested that the script be dropped anonymously on the doorstep of Melissa Rosenberg, screenwriter for The Twilight Saga films, but the jury is out on whether any faults with The Twilight Saga: New Moon can be blamed on the curse of Dujardin.

Early in 2012, Adam McKay released a short video on FunnyorDie.com starring Jean Dujardin appearing at a gaming convention as Mille Bornes inventor Arthur Dujardin, dressed in full road rally regalia, accosting convention attendees and their cars with oversize hazards from the game.

The Hollywood press soon announced that Paul Reubens is now attached to the project, and writers Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson (Life as We Know It) have been hired to doctor the script. By coincidence, both writers were in the same film program at Northwestern with Parker Brothers aficionado Sonnenschein.

 

LieQuest 2013

A few issues of Roulez from 1994 are available are available online: http://www.scribd.com/doc/15590688/Roulez4

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