Movie Review: Angry Video Game Nerd (2014)

What did I watch? Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (2014) which I rented on Amazon.

The what the what the movie? Please go to Cinemassacre.com and watch a bunch of these videos. Then come back.

WOAH! This guy is funny. And he makes fun of stuff we grew up with, specifically video games! So, a movie? Is this one of those things where an SNL skit gets made into a movie and you wonder what warranted it becoming a movie? Yes.

So, is it Wayne’s World okay or Night Of The Roxbury unnecessary? And how bummed will we be if we really like this guy’s videos and it’s the latter? Kinda bummed. I’ll try to keep the spoilers light.

James Rolfe, the star (and writer, director, etc.) of this movie, deserves a few medals. There have been reviews with retro themes dedicated to pop culture items of the past, but they usually tend to be of the “remember when?” variety. Rolfe’s character, the Angry Video Game Nerd, might be the grown up version of the frustrated kids who now get to curse, emphatically, over the video games from yesterday, but it’s a smokescreen for a very thoughtful person who explains why the games he reviews, some obscure and others the most popular from that era, were terrible.

It’s like going to a therapist and finding out that things in your life weren’t always your fault. In this case, you MIGHT not suck at video games. Rolfe the therapist shows you that TEAMS of people time after time made incomprehensible games and yet still released them because they knew you loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He could easily just play for a few minutes and say “this game, right? Remember? Pretty crappy. [swear word x10]” But every “what were they THINKING?” is countered with (especially as the series progresses) reasonable explanations as to why even the most dedicated video game lovers would regret pressing the “start” button at the first menu. You don’t just laugh because he’s making fun of it, you nod along because someone has eloquently [with creative swearing] pointed out what you had suspected when you were trying to play digital games that were in fact ruining your fun.

angryvideogamebotweb

So, a movie? Well, why not. The AVGN shorts help sustain other shorts he has made (a few also ongoing series). He did the math and used Kickstarter to fund making the movie himself (with Kevin Finn listed as co-writer & co-director). Unfortunately, just like an SNL skit where you wonder why someone thought an 8 minute sketch would make a 90 minute movie, the filmmaking duo were unable to convert the star of these shorts into the hero of a two hour adventure.

Other than an opening sequence of praise about the title character from various people online (though one of a guy saying the show helps him with his English was pretty touching), it opens up pretty strong. The AVGNerd makes videos putting down vintage video games, and then goes to work at a video game store patronized by people who willingly buy games he (literally, figuratively) spits on. His ambitious coworker Cooper helps him make the videos and also serves as his manager, hoping to one day have an impact the Nerd has with his fans. He arranges to have the Nerd review a sequel to the agreed-upon worst game of all time, the Atari 2600 game based on the movie E.T.

The video game sequel in question is purposely made to be bad, and marketed so by company chameleon stooge Mandi, who arranges with Cooper to have The Nerd review it for his seal of disapproval. Cooper hopes that such a review would encourage his hero to then revisit the original E.T. game, but the The Nerd still refuses. In a series of dreams (one would be enough, but they’re still pretty clever) the Nerd is haunted by his experience of being disappointed by the game, and that maybe he’s doing a disservice by reviewing games that people will try out for morbid curiosity but could be better off never playing the game themselves.

This would be a great movie right there, but the latter thought is (SPOILER) almost forgotten  until the end (I was like, “oh yeah, and there’s that game sequel”). Instead there’s a road trip where they stumble on Area 51 and are mistaken to be terrorists by some incredibly inept soldiers. There’s a running gag about the base’s general being so accident prone that nearly every action he engages in results in dismemberment, but that slapstick isn’t as funny (or even funny in the first place) as the comments from his soldiers ABOUT what a pain in their butts he is.

Some of the effects are cheap, but purposely so and in most cases charmingly effective. The giant missile silo that comes out of the base, the robots that chase our hero, the planes that attack a weird monster destroying Las Vegas, etc. There’s a flying saucer that is created in a similar fashion to the one in Super 8, and it’s pretty well done.

Then there’s an alien, which is a giant jaw and teeth surrounded by a green rubbery thing that is mostly kept out of frame when it talks. Did they forget to tell the propmaster that it was supposed to be a puppet? Was it supposed to look like the neck-extending E.T. from the video game but they couldn’t even risk the idea of a lawsuit? Of all the cheap effects in the movie, this one sticks out like a sore thumb.

The story of a guy finds himself popular for his damning review of video games only to find that his popularity fuels sales for these games…that difficult conundrum would make a great movie for this character. There’s enough there. But the movie gets lost. It’s made to be a quirky adventure comedy but its quirky moments (such as a weird conversation about a being who can erase existence) are overshadowed by the adventure (facing off against the oafish authoritarian bad guy who chases after them over mistaken interpretations of their intentions).

Even that conversation, which comes out of nowhere and is just an exposition setup, is a CONVERSATION. Just three people who are talking about something before being interrupted by supposed (side) villains who wear out their welcome as adversaries. From there, the adventure meanders. Stuff happens, but scenes go on too long. Some bits and jokes are responded to with comments that add little to the bit, or are not even jokes themselves, and could have been cut.

The Nerd becomes a snarky observer in his own movie, just standing there while everyone discusses the plot around him, even admitting that he’s barely listening. He finds Cooper’s theory of an existence-erasing being to be ridiculous, but still indulges the conversation and weighing in. He’s not just a mean guy who dismisses everything around him. Yet a few scenes later he meets a scientist who worked at Area 51 and is too cool for this scene and his standard movie friends taking part in the moment.

It’s the length of the movie that negates the potential. Make it a half hour shorter with this material and it’d be a slightly better movie. It’s not gross-out movie for a character who occasionally defecates on the games he reviews, but it’s not the zany off the wall adventure the movie is advertised.

What it feels like is a movie full of things a guy who likes movies wanted to put into his movie. There’s the empty boxes and a fruit cart that get run over during a car chase. It’s part of the parody, but the standard adventure that, even with silly cheap effects like a UFO on strings fighting a guy in a giant monster costume, are there just because it’s the kind of thing that should happen in an adventure.

So, it sucks then? What, this guy isn’t capable of telling a story? That’s not remotely true. Rolfe & friends have made several videos that start off as reviews of board games (Board JAMES) They start off cartoonish in a Tom & Jerry sense where bad things happen in one episode, and then in the next they’re okay (with the except of poor accident prone Bootsy). Together they form a bizarre story, with a lot of symbolic easter eggs and a finale that hints at the cast existing as ill-fated gods in their own realities.

Was the plot really just about how awesome the character, played by the guy writing & directing the movie, is? Outside of The Fans Love Me and I’m Doing This For The Fans… I don’t know to what extent the Nerd is of Rolfe’s own personality, but despite what I say in my observation he’s never out of place in any of the scenes with the other characters. So he does very well in his own movie. Also, I love the Nerd character. The costume may have been an early way to identify him as a “nerd” but he is a character in the webisodes and in this movie, and sometimes a cartoonish one. Does anyone else have such an expressive frown?

Was it worth seeing? Uhhhhhh if you’re a fan, and a completionist? I don’t know. I definitely had some good laughs early on (the Nerd seems flummoxed by modern video games and some computer accessories needed to play them; these would have been welcome running gags compared to the general’s self inflicted misfortunes). Definitely watch some of the AVGN episodes first. I would also check out the Board James series, even (especially) when it gets surreal.

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