Thursday, August 25, 2016

Gaming -- of all sorts -- distinguishes the new sort-of-thriller, Adam Randall's LEVEL UP

One of those ever-more-plentiful what's-going-on-here-and-why? movies, the new would-be thriller/suspense film, LEVEL UP, takes a typically irresponsible male, who would rather spend his time drinking, drugging and gaming than working for a living, and puts him through one hell of a day or so in the service of... what, exactly? Our entertainment, one would guess. But that means you would need to be pretty heavily into gaming yourself before finding worthwhile this over-reaching combo of an early David Fincher film, The Game, and its more recent online cousin, Nerve.

As directed and co-written (with Gary Young) by Adam Randall, shown at left, the movie and its WTF plot seems initially pretty silly before turning serious and then even life-threatening. Our non-hero, Matt (played by Josh Bowman, below, left) gets off on his usual morning of doing damned little but slouching around and maybe playing video games. Then, just after his girlfriend leaves for work, he has his day interrupted by three hooded fellows who do some very naughty things.

And yet, no matter how horrible life becomes for poor Matt, this viewer could not shake the sense that everything going on here was one big, complicated and maybe pointless game. Along the way various scenarios present themselves, coming either via the film itself or perhaps from the several other movies we've seen that have played similar games:

Because his girlfriend has suddenly been kidnapped, Matt must then go all over the place and do all kind of weird things to save her life. Is all this merely the adventures of a poor shnook or schmuck being used for nefarious purposes? Maybe. But, really now, if you want someone killed, would you have to go to this much complicated trouble to do the job?

Or maybe this is some kind of treatise on the evils/perils of too much gaming (as Nerve tried so hard to be)? Or a cautionary tale about how the Internet is taking over our lives? Or could it really be about... surveillance? Or this: After a time of being around a bunch of numbskull males, one begins to wonder if the whole idea and plot has been concocted by a group of women who have grown thoroughly fed up with their dim-bulb men.

Matt's adventures takes him from one oddball place and person to another, and Mr. Bowman, who is in just about every scene in the film, certainly proves to be game. Some of the other males and females have their moments, too. Little by little, that plot begins to offer a few revelations, though nothing that quite pinpoints exactly what is going on. At least not for a very long time.

This is probably for the better, since mysteries are almost always more fun than their resolutions. The movie looks snappy, too; it's well filmed and edited, and the performances are as good as the concept and characters call for. Over all, I could have done without it -- though perhaps I've already seen too many films a little too much like this one. You younger folk may have more patience -- due to having less of a catalog/backlog of movie memories to weigh the film down.

In any case, Level Up -- from filmbuff and running 84 minutes -- will open tomorrow, Friday, August 26, for a week-long run in a dozen theaters in a dozen cities across the country, including  New York (at the Cinema Village), Los Angeles (at the Downtown Independent), and Austin (Alamo Drafthouse, Slaughter Lane). Look for it in Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth, Milwaukee, San Francisco/San Jose, Seattle/Tacoma, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Detroit, too. On September 26, the film will make its nationwide VOD debut.

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