Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Joost & Schulman's NERVE has some verve -- along with a whole lot of nonsense

Alternately ugly and silly, suspenseful and ridiculous, the new would-be thriller NERVE -- from that Catfish duo, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman -- proves a trying time at the movies. For all its timeliness (giving us an online game more popular than this new Pokemon nonsense), the film keeps asking you to suspend your disbelief over and over until you're ready to scream, "Fuck it!" and take that disbelief behind the barn to permanently put it out of its misery. Younger audiences may be able to manage this. We older folk will want to call it a day well before this 96-minute movie does the same.

Part of the problem here is the so-so screenplay by Jessica Sharzer (from a novel by Jeanne Ryan) in which, necessarily I suppose, the "game" at the center of the film overrides all else. The filmmakers, shown above, with Mr. Joost on the left (photo is by Jimi Celeste, courtesy of Getty Images) are at this point -- after Catfish and some of the Paranormal Activity drivel -- well-versed in hand-held, by-the-bootstraps filmmaking, and they do a good job or putting us in the role of voyeurs in the online game in which you are either a watcher or a player (you pay money to be the former, and perhaps considerably more than that if you choose to be the latter).

The game is basically one of those Do-you-dare-attempt-what-we-tell-you? deals, in which the stakes grow higher and higher, after which most of us would simply say, "Oh, please!" and move on to something else. But this is "the movies" and so instead our heroine (an ever-game Emma Roberts, above) and maybe hero (the slightly-sleazier-than-his-older-brotherDave Franco, below) do the dares and take us along with them.

Some of the dares have built-in suspense aplenty (driving a motorcycle at 60 mph while blindfolded) and the directors milk these for what they're worth. Others (hanging from skyscraper construction beams or waking across a horizontal ladder placed between buildings) seem awfully tired. And some (trying on pricey clothes at a posh department store, and then...) are rather fun.

Much worse is the movie's lame try at characterization. Ms Roberts hasn't much, except to be the usual ugly duckling/hang-backer who suddenly develops into a feisty swan. But Ms Roberts is always pretty and real, with charm aplenty, all of which she must rely on bigtime here. Mr. Franco is relegated to the role of is-he-or-isn't-he a cad and so must rely on his very sexy body to do the heavy-lifting.

Worst of all are the subsidiary characters who either fade into the wallpaper (Miles Heizer, above, right, as the lovestruck best male friend) or change character completely and unbelievably (Emily Meade as the best female friend and Colson Baker/aka Machine Gun Kelly as the top competitor in the game). Themes of ambition, fame, and the meaning of friendship rear their somewhat tired heads, too, and all are given as shallow a treatment as you might imagine.

The movie takes place in New York City and its boroughs (mostly Staten Island), yet the penultimate scene, set in what looks something like the Roman Coliseum by night, seems to be housing maybe twice the population of Rome. (How did these thousands upon thousands of kids get here without attracting a little police attention or supervision?)

Nerve, which becomes uglier and uglier as it goes along, finally offers too little of what its title promises. Think of it as Saw for the PG set. It would like to be a warning call regarding the morality of online game playing, but in its rush to finally make everything all right, not only does it not have the courage of its convictions, it turns out to have lacked any convictions in the first place. But, yes, it is -- off and on -- bad, silly fun.

From Lionsgate and set to entice the marginally-intelligent teen crowd, the movie opens today all over the place. Click here, and you'll be greeted with a venue (or ten) near you.

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