As Monty Python’s Flying Circus would say, “…and now for something completely different”. Think of the movies Nerve mixed with Scott Pilgrim vs The World meets John Wick with some Hardcore Harry thrown in, and you have this outrageously fun and darkly comedic thriller where watching online killing is the hottest thing around. The app game is called Skizm, an illegal and hardcore underground organization waiting to go world-wide that achieves massive popularity by live-streaming IRL death matches between criminals and psychos. Their undefeated killer is Nix (Samara Weaving), a pistol-packing ‘Jane Wick’ who has a proverbial “one last job to do before she’s out” criteria. Uh-huh. Right. But the head of Skizm, Riktor (Ned Dennehy) will never let her go; she’s waaaay too popular.
Meanwhile, we meet all-around wimpy loser Miles Lee Harris (Radcliffe) who’s stuck in his boring computer coding job by day, and trolling the Skizm site by night. But his nasty online comments yield devastating results: he’s visited by Riktor and gang and wakes up the next day with (gulp!) two .45 guns surgically attached to his hands and fingers!! He’s also been entered into the next death game against Nix with the whole city watching (there are cameras and drones everywhere!). Faster than you say expecto patronum, Miles is on the run from trigger-happy Nix, clan only in his boxer shorts and a bathrobe. Narrow escaping a hail of bullets, he gets unexpected help from a street bum (Rhys Darby) and then his ex-girlfriend, Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo).
Instead of going to the cops, like he should be doing, Miles decides to flee and figure things out on his own. Yeah, not a good idea, especially since he’s being tracked by Nix and her endless supply of guns, rifles, and over-the-top weaponry. That means wherever Miles goes, destruction, mayhem, and a whole lotta car crashes and/or body counts happen around him, with Miles miraculously escaping each time. Miles even tries to trick Nix into a police ambush at a junkyard, but that plan hilariously backfires. As the movie progresses, Miles grows more of a backbone and decides to fight fire with fire and go after Skizm, and not just because they’ve taken Nova as a hostage. The ending, where Nix and Miles team up, is a wild and crazy fire-fight with some unexpected results.
Written & directed by Jason Lei Howden (Deathgasm), his specialty is mostly visual effects, as you can tell with his insane camera moves. Think of Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Hot Fuzz) on crack. Jason is like a 10-year-old who just got a camcorder on Christmas Day and wants to use every camera angle and special effect known to Man for his first movie. In fact, almost EVERY shot is over-exaggerated from a fish-eye lens to smash-cuts, quick edits, spinning 360 shots, and multi-colored pallets. For any other movie, this would have been a turn-off, but here the frenetic energy and rapid pace actually works.
Add this to his off-beat script and you have one seriously oddball film. The screenplay is fresh, twisted, and isn’t your cookie-cutter cliche-riddled script that is cranked out in five minutes. The lines are quirky and throw-away, like in TV’s Brooklyn 9-9, plus you have some rather silly scenes that make no sense, but are just plain fun to watch. The real reason to watch is Daniel Radcliffe, spouting an American accent and pulling off one the funniest, weirdest roles yet… and that’s saying something. Samara Weaving is excellent as the gut-toting killing machine that finds the time to spout some really funny off-kilter dialogue and Dennehy, as the bald multi-tattooed villain, is about the most demented evil guy I’ve ever seen.
**Available on VOD since it would have been in the theaters this week.
A movie aimed at millennial’s, for millennial’s, and directed BY millennial’s? There’s a millennial trifecta if ever I heard of one! Based on a 2012 novel by Jeanne Ryan, this updated millennial’s version of a digital truth or dare game that has a nice cash prize, disappeared at the box office quickly. Did you even see it?
Download the app, then ask yourself: are you a Player or a Watcher? That’s the burning question for this hotter-than-hot super-viral phone-app & computer game that sweeping NYC for the millennial’s called Nerve. Shy and introverted high school senior Venus “Vee” Delmonico (Emma Roberts), longs to leave her dismal Staten Island home for college, accepts the challenge as a Player after her BFF, Sydney (Emily Meade), is already a huge hit with hundreds of online followers. The game seems simple – players accept dares that keep getting exponentially harder BUT the money you make increases with each dare. Example: Vee makes $100 for just “kissing a random stranger” dare. Nice!
That random stranger turns out to be Ian (Dave Franco), another Nerve player and the two hook up for their dares, much to the delight of the online Watchers, but no so much Tommy (Miles Heizer), Vee’s hacker friend who has a secret crush on her. He’s none-too-keen on Nerve or Vee being part of it, and maybe for good reason as the dares start to get bolder and crazier, like trying on a $4000 dress, then running out of the store in just your underwear! As Vee’s bank account grows, her mom (Juliette Lewis in a thankless role) gets suspicious, and then things take a turn for the worse.
The game starts to get ugly and downright cruel as narcissistic and super-vain Sydney starts to accept really dangerous dares because her followers are leaving her to follow the more popular Vee. In turn, Vee becomes more self-centered and egotistical with her new online popularity (and cash flow) that she accepts any dare, but after she finds out that others have been killed in their dare. Uh-oh! She can’t escape from the game as it has a viral grip on her (and her bank account). She has to go through with the final dare: a live show-down against the reigning champion (Colson Baker) with REAL guns!
Known mostly for writing & producing American Horror Story, Jessica Sharzer adapted the novel into a paint-by-the-numbers thriller with a requisite twist at the end. It’s all very flashy and fast-paced, with dialogue the kids of the millennial age would appreciate, plus the usual “meet cute” that is required in these kind of movies. You’ve seen all this before; you don’t play the game, the game plays YOU, plus this has the same ‘ol same ‘ol boring clichéd ‘cute girl meets cute guy‘ routine romance that falls flat.
The only thing this movie had going for it was the YouTube style of filming that was done on cellphones, Go-Pro cameras, and hand-helds. On the plus side, it gives you a dizzying and heightened awareness of the movie, but the downside is it looks cheap, artificial, and stark. Blame that on the directing team of Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman (a bunch of those Paranormal Activity movies) who just love using videocams (their stock in trade) as their star, rather than the actor. That’s a real shame as Roberts and Franco had a lot they could have done here with the right material and some decent direction.