Bill Birney Screenwriter
Synopsis - People in Cars
People in Cars
The sunrise grows until it pries open the desert sky. A man falls into frame, the side of his face landing full force against the desert floor, a piece of paper clenched tight in his fist. After a few hours, he is discovered by two people in a passing car and rushed to an emergency room in Camelot, Nevada. That night in the hospital, he dreams about a sky of stars modulated by the lashings of a helicopter rotor. Military men hover over him as he lies on the deck looking out the sliding door. When the chopper lands with a bump, the man startles awake. He sees he is in a hospital and panics. Then, he wanders out into the dark and keeps walking until he can no longer see his hands.
The next morning, the sheriff finds him lying by the side of the road and returns him to the hospital. The man, Tom, convinces Jenny the head nurse that he doesn’t remember the events that led up to him being found half-dead in the desert. In a second dream, he is dumped out of the helicopter and abandoned. This time details of the dream are witnessed by Traci while under hypnosis. She is a school counselor, the closest they have to a therapist in Camelot. She drives him to the local airport to see how he reacts to an old B-17 parked there. He looks in the cockpit and verbalizes a vision he suddenly gets of flying a high-altitude plane way up in the mesosphere, where you can see stars in the middle of the day. She thinks he’s a pilot. He’s not so sure.
That night, Tom has a particularly intense dream about a pilot talking to ground control, as his high-altitude plane fails to deploy a gun, and then breaks apart and crash-lands. His memory is beginning to return and it’s not good. Meanwhile, at a military base, the security office receives Tom’s picture with the title: Can You Identify?
Jenny tries to train Tom to help her around the hospital, as she gins up a claim that he’s some kind of criminal trying to take advantage of the gullible people of Camelot. While she’s arguing with a patient, Tom wanders off again. This time he steals a car and drives in the direction of two military jets. After the old VW dies, Lyle finds him and tosses him in a cell until they can figure out what to do with him. At night, Tom replays the jet crash and adds to it visual snapshots of a control room, as monitors and radar record the incident.
At a naval airbase in the desert, Captain Pearsall brings the picture of Tom to Commander Condit. He tells Pearsall to see what’s up, and then folds the picture into a tiny square and burns it. The next morning, Traci bails Tom out and takes him to a café for breakfast. He is upset that she’s paying for him, which she sees as bolstering her image of him as a macho pilot.
Meanwhile, Lyle goes to Dr. Trehune’s house. For several months, Jenny has used the flimsy excuse that the hospital’s only staff doctor has gone fishing. Lyle now sees that the house is abandoned. At the hospital, Lyle confronts Jenny. Apparently, the doctor took off and Jenny has been running the hospital by herself without the board’s knowledge.
While Lyle is grilling Jenny, a beige government car from Radik Naval Airbase arrives at the Sheriff’s office. The Driver and Passenger pry information about Tom from an office worker, and then pay him a visit at the café, where Tom is now a waiter in training. When he takes their order, the two can barely conceal their shock that Tom doesn’t seem to recognize them.
Later, Tom cooks hamburger helper at Traci’s house, as her kids Floyd and Howie run around and ask embarrassing questions. She tells him to take a break in the living room. On the ubiquitous TV, a story comes on about a new jet plane that flies at high altitude to disable satellites. The story ends with, “Opponents say it simply doesn’t work.” Traci turns off the TV and looks out the window. Tom has wandered off again.
She sees him walking down the road in the direction of the airport, then the government car driving up behind him. Tom runs off into the desert, and the Driver and Passenger take chase. He runs down a dry wash and has the clear advantage until he falls climbing up a steep bank. The two goons strong-arm Tom into their car, and then race back up the road past Traci’s house. But Traci is ready for them. She has been waiting in her car with the two kids strapped in behind her, and she takes off after them.
The government car stops at a gas station, and Traci attracts the Driver’s attention as Howie lets the air out of their tires. Then, she grabs Tom, and they take off in her Camaro, leaving the beige car in the dust. Tom identifies the Driver and Passenger as the ones in his dreams but doesn’t know why they called him Major. At the hospital, Traci hypnotizes Tom and he recalls the last crucial event at the base when the Driver and Passenger try to grab him. Tom cuts the Driver’s face badly with a broken flask and takes them on a wild chase through the medical infirmary. Tom finally gives up trying to outrun them and goes back to his office. Then he takes a one-page document out of a folder and stuffs it down his pants. The goons run in, grab him, and inject him with something that knocks him out cold.
When Tom awakens from hypnosis at the hospital, Traci hardly recognizes him. His memory has returned and he’s in a heightened manic state. He remembers the memo he was holding and tells her must find it.
They run to the nurses’ station and get Tom’s personal items. He finds the memo and Traci reads it. The memo provides clear proof that the base commander was instructed to whitewash the test results of the plane that crashed. It’s Tom’s ticket to saving himself and bringing down the criminal plot. Tom also reveals his true identity. He is a doctor and one of his jobs was to be present during flight tests. Traci leaves the kids with a nurse and she and Tom run out to the car.
When they try to leave, she is blocked by Lyle’s cruiser. The Driver and Passenger are with him. She shows Lyle the memo, which should provide incontrovertible evidence. But the Driver tells her Tom is a pilot, and that he purposely crashed the plane and was selling secrets to the enemy. It’s hard to know who to believe, but Traci goes with Tom. She floors the pedal and fishtails around Lyle, then flies off down the highway. Lyle and the two government guys get in the cruiser and take chase.
During the chase, Lyle’s vision is impaired by the dust cloud behind her car and flies off an embankment. The car lands on its side and catches fire. Traci turns back to make sure they’re okay. She helps Lyle get out the driver’s side and run to safety before the cruiser explodes. The Driver is killed, but they find the Passenger bent over a rock struggling to breathe. While Traci runs for help, Tom borrows Lyle’s pocketknife and opens the Passenger’s airway, proving to Lyle that he really is a doctor. As the two wait for help, they settle back under the desert night sky.
A few years later, Jenny is bandaging Howie at the hospital, and Traci asks where the good doctor is. Traci is surprised when Jenny tells her he’s gone fishing. At the creek, Tom is fishing with Floyd. Neither of them has a clue what they’re doing. Floyd drops a fish they had caught back into the stream and runs off laughing. Tom chases after him.