Jeffrey Boam has killed more people this summer than he can count, most in ways too gruesome to imagine. First there were the nasty Nazis in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, then the sordid South Africans in Lethal Weapon 2. Can this man be stopped? Apparently not. With the sequels he wrote to Indiana Jones and Lethal Weapon breaking box office records—$305 million as of Aug. 20—the 39-year-old screen writer has blasted his way into the upper echelons of bankable movie writers.
Boam’s own lethal weapon has been a wicked wit and the ability to rev up the action in his movies to a breathless pace. But unlike the bloodthirsty heroes who inhabit his scripts, the only thing wild about Boam is his imagination. “I love things that crash and burn and explode,” he says of the havoc. “I enjoy seeing villains get their comeuppance. There’s something cathartic and therapeutic about it, and people do get off on it.”
The wellspring of Boam’s scripted mayhem is a mystery even to those closest to him. “I’ll read passages he’s written and I’ll say, ‘Where’d that come from?’ ” says his wife, Paula, 34, a photographer. “Or he’ll murder someone in a horrifying way, and for days I’ll be looking at him suspiciously.”
Paula may be surprised that the father of her three children (Tessa, 11, Mia, 9, and Dashiell, 4 months) has a mind like Mad Max, but she isn’t really afraid he’ll bring his penchant for movie violence home. “The most dangerous thing that man ever did is marry me,” she quips. When asked to compare him with one of the summer heroes, she names Indiana Jones. “He’s mild-mannered like Indiana. He’s loyal and dependable. And he’s irreverent at times, “she says. “He wouldn’t ever be like Mel Gibson.”
Take the way Martin Riggs, Mel Gibson’s cop-on-the-edge in Lethal Weapon 2, relaxes after a bad day. He may blow a house off its stilts or chase a drug dealer through downtown L.A. Not Jeffrey Boam. When the going gets tough, he dives into his pool and swims laps. “He’ll go out there, and I’ll see him slicing back and forth furiously in the water,” says Paula, sitting in the family room of their five-bedroom San Fernando Valley home.
While Boam has been praised for the way he uses humor to cut the tension in violent scenes, he is often criticized for the body counts in his movies. “I don’t like slasher movies where people get decapitated. That’s savagery and gore,” Boam says in his defense. “This is action. I think it’s so clearly fantasy that it’s not repulsive to most people.”
Boam got his taste for action watching World War II movies on TV while growing up. The middle child of an aeronautical engineer and a housewife, Boam moved with his family from Fair Lawn, N.J., to Sacramento, Calif., at 11. He was planning to become a sketch artist when he discovered the film school at UCLA.
After graduating in 1973, Boam booked films into theaters for Paramount, where he met and romanced Paula, the daughter of a Paramount vice president. But even marriage to the boss’s daughter two years later didn’t prevent Boam from getting fired after tussling with a superior. He used his idle time to write two screenplays, which a neophyte agent happily shopped around town. “Suddenly I was going to meetings,” he says. “And within two weeks I was employed as a screen writer at Warner Brothers.”
His first effort, the screen play for Straight Time, received little notice, but his scripts for The Dead Zone, The Lost Boys, Funny Farm and Innerspace built up his credits and confidence. So much so that when Steven Spielberg offered him a crack at the third Indiana Jones movie, Boam replied, “I’m only surprised that you didn’t call me sooner.”
Boam wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of writing another sequel when he was offered Lethal Weapon 2. He felt it “wouldn’t be that challenging or rewarding” but admits now that he was wrong. “It’s taken these two films to get me into the really big money,” he says.
Boam’s next project is to breathe celluloid life into comic book teenagers Archie, Jughead and the gang for Warner, after which he hopes to write and direct his own films. Of course, if he gets the opportunity to write Lethal Weapon 3, he might just take the money and run. After all, how could he pass up the chance to burn, squash and gun down a few more villains?
—Mary H. J. Farrell, Jack Kelley in Los Angeles