Some movie moments have become such cliches that even mocking them is something of a cliche: You all know the Thief Who Is Hired to Do One Last Big Score Before Quitting, the Gay Best Friend, the Cop Who Gets the Dangerous Case the Week Before He Retires, the Race to the Airport, the Argument That Turns Into Making Out, the Gunshot That We Think Has Just Killed Our Hero But Actually Has Come from the Hero's Friend's Gun Which Has Just Shot the Villain, Everybody Jumping Into the Swimming Pool with Their Clothes On and Laughing, and so on and so forth. But there are many more cliches that I see all the time which remain unheralded. To wit:
- Roadside America frozen in the '50s. Has anybody here taken a road trip across any portion of the United States? It's just a bunch of 18-wheelers and chain gas stations and fast food restaurants, isn't it? So how do those movie characters, no matter where they are, manage to find the glamorously decaying mom-and-pop gas stations and roadside diners that serve the best apple pie ever made - all staffed, it must be noted, only by hick-accented (and either adorable or terrifying) white people?
- Unwiped tears. The first thing you do when you start to cry is to briskly wipe your tears away. Not only because visible tears are embarrassing unless you're one big drama queen, but also because they kind of tickle. Yet it's typical actor grandstanding: whenever performers coax out actual tears in a scene, they're so proud of their accomplishment that they proudly display those tears on their cheeks for the camera to capture (and note how this is rarely accompanied by the red-faced grimacing that usually comes with crying). Some believe this heightens the emotional impact of a scene, but what can be more honest or touching than somebody awkwardly brushing away real tears?
- The slow clap. You know the drill: the protagonist gives a heartrending speech in front of an indifferent or possibly even hostile crowd, then after a tense silence, one brave person in the crowd applauds slowly. Then another. Then another. Soon, everybody is clapping and cheering the inspiring words that our hero has just uttered.
- Kojak parking. Also called "TV parking", this refers to movie characters' unflagging luck in scoring a parking spot directly in front of their destination, even in crowded cities like New York or San Francisco. A necessary brevity is behind this: showing someone having to park two or three blocks away or in a paid lot (like the rest of us) then having to walk five minutes would undoubtedly slow down the story.
- The vanishing act. How do they do it? Take a mysterious character. Have him say something to a less mysterious character. The less mysterious character turns away from his more mysterious friend as he responds, then turns back and poof! The mysterious character has disappeared, thanks to superhuman speed and an ability to move without making a sound! Seconds later, you can't even see him on the long, wide street he must have used to make his escape! It's hard to even let Batman get away with this.
- Unfinished drinks/meals. Two characters meet in a restaurant or bar, order something, then after a few expository lines, one or both dash off to the next location. In the process, perhaps one sip of a drink or one bite of a meal is ever consumed. (Often, they leave just as the waiter arrives with their order.) No wonder those Hollywood stars stay so thin!
- Slapping. More actorly nonsense. I suppose people get slapped all the time in real life, but surely not as often as movie characters do, especially after saying the One Thing That Really Hurts the Other Character. The Return Slap - usually employed by the Independent Daughter after just getting slapped by her Out-Of-Control Mother - is another oft-seen cliche.
- Spontaneous laughter. Even more B.S. handed to us on a silver platter by writers and actors who mistakenly believe that audiences find it very entertaining when characters, in the middle of some tense or confrontational situation, suddenly look at each other and laugh, laugh like they never laughed before, deep from the belly and the soul. Then they stop, look at each other, and erupt in laughter again! Life is funny! Then they go back to business. Related: the Villain Who Laughs After a Suspenseful Pause When Another Character Has Said Something Insulting, Intentionally or Otherwise.
- 555. This wasn't designed to be a cliche, but it's become one of the worst. The "555" prefix on phone numbers, as anybody who's ever seen an American movie knows, is used when filmmakers - acting on the advice of long-ago studio attorneys - need to include a phone number in the story but don't want one that could ever reach somebody, as if some audience member will dial it and annoy the person who actually has that number, who then of course sues the filmmaker for invasion of privacy. (You see, no American phone number has the prefix 555, other than information lines.) But it takes you right out of the reality of a film's scene, doesn't it? And seriously, who's ever going to call 738-2334 or 373-2901 or 202-3930 (numbers I just typed in at random) just because it's mentioned in a movie?