Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Angry Video Game Nerd Movie (2014) - Movie Review

After a show has been running for long enough, whether it’s from the fans or from the creators themselves, the idea of turning it into a movie will always crop up eventually. Take, for instance, the Simpsons Movie which had had been the development/rumour-driven stage for over a decade before it saw the light of release to a wide opinion of “Eh, it was alright.” There are plenty of approaches that can be taken translating from small to big screen. You could make it just an extended version of a standard episode, only with a bigger budget. This can work well in translating from one medium in another by keeping the series content intact, like with the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 movie, or it can bore audiences to death because it utilises a plot that has to be stretched to all hell to make it feature-length, like with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This film, on the other hand… well, the show itself doesn’t have that much of an overarching plot to build on so it can’t really go with the straight translation route. I don’t even think there is a specific name for the route that this film took with its writing and, if I’m being honest, it’s a film I’m still trying to figure out even after having seen it. Why? Well, let’s get started and I’ll show you.

The plot: The Nerd (James Rolfe), an Internet sensation and local video game store employee, has received tons and tons of requests to review a certain game: E.T. for the Atari 2600, widely regarded as one of the worst games ever made that single-handedly brought down the video game market in its wake. Tired of hearing about both the game itself and the legend that Atari buried its unwanted stockpiles of the game in a desert in New Mexico, the Nerd, his sidekick Cooper (Jeremy Suarez) and Cockburn Industries executive Mandi (Sarah Glendening), who is currently working on a sequel to the infamous game, head out to the supposed landfill to debunk the conspiracy once and for all. However, as the landfill is suspiciously close to Area 51, General Dark Onward (Stephen Mendel, and yes, that is his actual character name) sets out to stop them from potentially uncovering a massive conspiracy involving the game’s connection with the Roswell incident.

One of the greatest weapons in the AVGN’s arsenal has always been his disgustingly descriptive diatribes about the games he plays. It almost enters into its own sector of Buffy-speak in the way he is able to mangle the English language with such visceral imagery to describe how terrible a game is. This usually helped by the fact that said diatribes always took place in the middle of an explanation of said game, where there is no real progression that it is stopping as the Nerd spins his magic. Introduce an honest-to-goodness plot into that setup, and all of a sudden those same words don’t have the same impact. I specify “same words” because quite a few of the fouler bits of language from the Nerd in this film are from his previous videos. I’d be annoyed by that if it weren’t for the fact that his main shtick, when it does come up, only serves to stop the plot dead as he goes. This is something quite evident early on and when one of your main character’s most defining traits doesn’t translate well into a feature-length production, the idea of this film working out starts to sink pretty damn quickly. But then again, despite what the film’s title may have us believe, this isn’t an Angry Video Game Nerd movie. Well, not really.

More so than video games, co-director and co-writer James Rolfe’s area of expertise has always been with filmmaking. Going by not only his more theatrical on the show proper but also his prior short film work, the guy has a definite love for the more b-movie side of things. Hell, not only has he featured Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman quite prominently in one of his episodes, but he even makes a cameo appearance in this film too. As the film’s plot progresses, getting deeper and deeper into the theories of Area 51 and Roswell and just conspiracy theories in general, it only grows more insane as the numerous bits of nonsense and plot pile on top of each other. It’s as if James wanted to make every single awesomely awful b-movie ever at the same time. Honestly, given how much this film carries a lot of the Nerd’s DIY aesthetic, complete with model work and costuming that I expect to find in some Podunk yard sale in a couple of years, going for the more tributary approach kind of fits. But does that make it good?

The acting is… wow, even James feels awkward in this thing. He’s so stiff, you’d think that his love for boxes was based on something a little too personal for him. If that reference felt out of place, then you know how I feel when it occurred in the film proper. There are thankfully a few actors who have an actual filmography on their hands like Mendel, who only serves to strengthen my B-movie theory with how much he tears up the scenery like his own limbs turn out during the film’s run. Time Winters as Dr. Zandor is fun and Eddie Pepitone as Mr. Swann, the Nerd’s boss at the video game store (because of course he’d work there in this thing) is fascinating in just how bizarre his performance is, but otherwise we’re largely stuck with Helena Barrett as McButter, who I kept expecting to be revealed to be a robot in disguise because there is no way that she was meant to convey human emotion. Then again, thinking back on it, the only real reason Mr. Swann stands out for me is because I swear that he is the same guy behind this infamous advert.

There’s a very definite 'we’re trying to be bad' vibe to a lot of the dialogue in this thing, exemplified no better than in the character of Cooper. Cooper, in no uncertain terms, is like every single 80’s movie cliché crammed into a single entity: He’s the token black main-ish character (complete with ebonics-spewing mother that chimes in occasionally), he’s the comic relief sidekick and he’s the wild conspiracy theorist that will no doubt be proven right by film’s end. Seriously, his little detour into espousing about a Flat Earth gives a similar feeling to the Machete Kills Again trailer from the start of Machete Kills: It’s absolutely ridiculous and you think that it’s just another joke, until you realise that the filmmakers fully intend to make that insanity a reality. Add to that the numerous sickeningly cheesy lines that transcend the mere idea of being bad jokes right into being funny again. I’m even going to spoil one of them for you right now, because I want to share the hilarious pain of this thing. Long story short, General Dark Onward (and yes, that is still his actual character name) gets tricked into using tin foil instead of some space metal. Once he finds out, he cries out that his plans have been foiled. No joke, when I first saw that, I actively had to leave the film for about half an hour to recompose myself. It’s like someone telling a dead baby joke out of nowhere: You grimace at the content of the joke itself, and then you start giggling out of the sheer audacity of the thing. Honestly, that kind of sums up the movie in a nutshell.

The soundtrack is done by Bear McCreary, someone I sincerely hope people already recognise the name of considering he recently did the soundtrack for 10 Cloverfield Lane. McCreary does a great job at melding 8-bit video game textures with some classic hard rock, giving a similar feeling of personal soundtrack meets game soundtrack that Pixels tried to get at, only this time it actually works. Such a shame that the rest of the audio is extremely inconsistent. Maybe it’s as a result of James being so used to working with a single camera setup and limited audio input, but nevertheless this gets kind of embarrassing at points. Often, you’ll have two people on screen together but it won’t sound like two people on screen together. Instead, it’ll appear as if one of them indeed is on screen, while the other is talking through several metres of plastic tubing in a completely separate room. So, not only does the dialogue itself make me cringe at times but the audio mixing is that wonky that it also adds to the pain somewhat.

All in all, this is a film co-directed and co-written by a guy who used to produce storylines for Duck Dynasty (seriously, Kevin Finn; look him up); it should be more than obvious that this isn’t a film to take seriously. It’s a very weird head trip of a film in that it constantly skates on the lines between amazingly cheesy and just painfully cheesy. It’s not so much a film about the Nerd as much as it is James taking his chance to make the biggest “fuck you, I want to see this shit” tribute to the schlocky genre flicks of yore. Given how this film’s enjoyment runs on a strange parallel to the enjoyment found in films of that ilk, I can’t help but think that this film succeeded at exactly what it wanted to do. I was apprehensive about this one, given the lukewarm response it has gotten since its release, but I guess this is just one of those films like Zoolander 2 or even the previously mentioned Machete Kills: You’re either gonna love the ludicrousness or you’re gonna hate it. Me personally, I loved it, flaws and all.

Well, since we’re already talking about exceptionally goofy shit, maybe it’s time to get back into some movie reviews as we head up north.

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