Thursday, August 25, 2016

Level Up: Same Old Gamer Same-Same

Shamelessly under-achieving Matt plays too many video games and it will cost him. If he had watched any of the dozens of thematically similar films released in the last few years, he would recognize all the clich├ęs that are about to bum-rush his boring life. Violent gaming goes offline yet again in Adam Randall’s Level Up (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Anna is the one with the job, but entitled Matt still can’t man-up to give his meal ticket a proper date night. The next day, she is kidnapped by balaclava wearing thugs on her way to work (something he wouldn’t know anything about). The same faceless villains outfit Matt with what looks like a suicide vest, but really contains a dummy package he must deliver to a certain place at a certain time, if he ever wants to see Anna alive again. Of course, there will be those trying to stop him, with lethal force if necessary. It is all part of some twisted game, but you would think they could have picked more interesting players.

How is Level Up derivative? Let us count the ways. It clearly follows in the tradition of video games gone all too real, recently exemplified by Beta Test and The Call Up, but it lacks the grittily cinematic lead of the former and the snazzy wardrobe of the latter. It also borrows from the infinitely superior Big Match and Rob Zombie’s even worse 31, in which well-heeled meanies place wagers on involuntary blood sport contestants. The loved ones in jeopardy aspect also recalls Raze, which really does not need to be recalled. So yes, we have seen this all before and we’ve seen it much better and far worse. If anything distinguishes Level Up, it is the utter blandness of its approach.

Josh Bowman must be the dullest leading man in the history of ticking clock thrillers. His supposedly desperate gamer constantly looks like he is woozy from a Nyquil jag. Since all the bad guys remain masked throughout, the film has no colorful villains to fall back on. The biggest name in the cast is probably Ben Wheatley regular Neil Maskell, who plays Dmitri, the chief henchman, but of course he too remains scrupulously under wraps. It is not like he has one of the resonant, immediately recognizable voices that makes you say: “dude, that’s Neil Maskell, buckle-up because we’re in for a wild ride,” so that doesn’t leave us with much.

It is one thing for a B-movie to rip-off its predecessors. There is a long, eccentric history of that kind of thing. What makes Level Up so problematic is its lack of energy and notable characters. Its really just a big nothing. Not recommended, Level Up opens tomorrow (8/26) in New York, at the Cinema Village.