The Heroic Beauty of Stealing The Burrito

By  · Published on March 12th, 2014

Pushing back against “Save the Cat,” The Bitter Script Reader recently looked to the burrito theft scene in Peter Berg’s Battleship as the inverse proposition. A story scenario that, instead of endearing the audience to the hero, leaves them uninspired by him.

The quick and dirty version is this: Taylor Kitsch breaks into a convenience store, unprompted, in order to steal a burrito for Brooklyn Decker and win her heart with cold-in-the-middle fast food. It all goes very un-James Bond, the police are called, and he gets hilariously tased.

Bitter sees it as a misfire. His money quote:

Also – just because I accept a guy’s libido would make him stupid enough to do this, it doesn’t mean I’d respect any woman who was actually wooed by this behavior. By extension, I question any audience member who looks at this and says, “I’m SO pulling for this guy.”

No, this is a scene that makes me shake my head and say, “No, I REFUSE to accept this as our hero.”

I can see the argument that starting this low gives the hero an opportunity for a redemptive moment later on. It would be more persuasive if the action didn’t require him to be so unbalanced in the first place. This is also what undercuts the “selfless” act of him offering the burrito to Brooklyn. Stealing food for a starving kid is one thing. Stealing food as a down payment on some possible groping and sweaty action? That’s less laudible.

So the next time you see a movie screw up its efforts to become a cheerleader for their characters, you know you can call that a “stealing the burrito” moment.

I like the newly minted term, but I read the scene completely differently.

First of all, grand romantic gestures are prone to making the perpetrator look foolish and unsteady. It’s the nature of the beast. Consider How I Met Your Mother and the blue french horn. Ted bum-rushes restaurant employees to steal an artifact from their wall to give it to a woman he’s just shared a first date with. It’s the exact same formula except Kitsch’s character Alex is far less graceful in the execution, and the prize is a common foodstuff instead of a hipsterish slice of quirk. Alex has only just met the hungry maiden he’s hitting on, so it’s not like he can meet her on top of the Empire State Building or anything. He’s letting his heart, his liver and another organ overpower whatever small amount of sense he has in the hopes of getting a phone number.

Obviously Bitter chose a giant steaming pile as a target, but this scene is actually a diamond in the very rough. It tells us a lot about our hero – that he’s rough around the edges, that he’s an idiot and that he’s compulsive when big blue eyes are at stake. But also that he’s undeterred in the face of speedbumps like locked doors and police custody, that he’s a problem solver, that he’s quick to help out someone in need and that he’s unafraid to look double plus moronic.

Secondly, it’s not meant to be a selfless act. It’s meant to be charismatically selfish while the rest of the movie is meant to prove his worth. As someone who did a lot of dumb things in college, and after college and before college, there’s admittedly a level of personal identifying that comes into play, but it also reminds me of hero introductions from classic comedies where the heroes weren’t sharp tacks (see: the 1980s and pretty much the entirety of M*A*S*H). There’s nothing – especially in a world where people cheer for Walter White – that says lugs aren’t worthy of our support.

He’s a jackass, and plenty of heroes from the past have been jackasses. Plus, it’s also the most Bergian moment (maybe the only one) in a movie with his name on it. The rest is an exercise in studio notes as gospel. Truly, the problem with Alex’s character introduction isn’t that he’s a burrito-stealing moron, it’s that the moment is followed and exacerbated by scene after scene after scene trying to re-prove what we already know about him, often with characters flat out saying, “Alex, you’re such a smart rebel brimming with potential if you’d only take anything seriously!”

On top of all of that, Alex’s introduction was a refreshing change of pace during the height of dour, depressing hero origin stories. It showed a young, clever guy putting his efforts toward something surface-level and falling literally on his face. I don’t see it crossing into unlikable territory the way Bitter does.

But it’s a great phrase, Stealing the Burrito, that might represent when a movie fails miserably to provide a hero to root for (as Bitter suggests), but I’d offer that it represents when a movie asks us to shake hands with a doofy but harmless schlub filled with unrealized destiny. I’d also offer that this is a million percent more than I ever thought I’d think about Battleship.

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