Saturday, April 13, 2013

Video Game High School

Kickstarter is quite a powerful tool these days. It can fund a video game developer’s dream, can help someone open a restaurant and even fund a major motion picture in its entirety (Veronica Mars, of which I am a proud backer). Lots of indie filmmakers have used it to get their passion projects off the ground (something I’m considering to help fund the second season of my sketch comedy webseries Winter & Construction) with varying degrees of success. I never heard of Video Game High School, which was funded via Kickstarter, until it popped up as a suggestion on my Netflix queue. It looked kind of fun so I did a little research. Once funding was secured (the makers wanted $75k and got $274k) 9 episodes were filmed and released online in mid/late 2012. The entire series was then edited down into a two-hour movie and released to home video.

In the world in which the film takes place, video games are the #1 source of entertainment across the globe. Geeky FPS player BrianD (Josh Blaylock) accidentally kills the top gamer in the country, The Law (Brian Firenzi), during an online multiplayer session and his popularity soars. This also gets him an invite to attend the prestigious Video Game High School where he must learn to fit in with all the other elite players.
At the start this flick totally had me. It’s clever and works plenty of video game geekiness into everyday life (a Presidential address is preempted by a “Frag Alert”). I was enjoying the recreations of the in-game happenings with the actors playing their avatars and it was pretty funny to boot. Once our lead, BrianD, gets the invite to VGHS things become cookie cutter and begin to resemble a nerdy version of Degrassi High meets Hogwarts. The plot goes the cliché route as all coming of age/high school life flicks and lost its appeal after a mere 40 minutes of its overlong 2+ hour runtime. Sure there’s some funny stuff going on and I’m glad someone finally took some initiative to show off gaming culture in a positive light, but the end product isn’t as superawesomeamazeballs as the makers seem to think it is.

The acting is decent, with Josh Blaylock giving a convincingly awkward performance as the lead. His co-stars, Brian Firenzi (The Law), Jimmy Wong (Ted), Johanna Braddy (Jenny Matrix), Ellary Porterfield (Ki Swan) and Benji Dolly (Games Dean), all fluctuate between being saccharine sweet and annoyingly hammy. However, the “special guest appearances” by Epic Meal Time’s Harley Morenstein and Zachary Levi (Chuck) are welcome additions to spice things up a bit. Morenstein in particular brings his perpetually drunken mannerisms with him to play Dean Calhoun, and he’s a riot to boot. Although I was saddened he didn’t find a way to work “epic bacon flip” into his dialogue.
The multiple writers and directors have talent, and it shows with their creative exploitations of gaming culture. Unfortunately it treads familiar ground way too often. There’s an unconvincing love triangle at the center of the story that bogs things down, sub plots are drawn out (the Games Dean stuff) and it’s predictable as all hell. As a webseries I’m sure this would have all seemed fine when broken up into individual episodes, but when combined into a feature length movie they just don’t work all that well together. I would have made some serious cuts to get the length down and trim the fat from a lot of the sub-plots.

Video Game High School isn’t bad, it’s just nothing special. As a variation/parody of John Hughes coming of age films, or any number of high school based television shows, this does succeed. But if you’re looking for something that offers more than just inserting video game references into typical school situations (playing Dance Dance Revolution is like going to gym class) you’re looking in the wrong place. While it is clever at times it never becomes its own thing, which is something I’m hoping the second season (which I’m sure the makers will turn into another film) will remedy.

2 out of 5

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