Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
The pitch was easy to get behind: Much like Wayne’s World took its metalhead slackers out of their cable-access show and into the larger world, AVGN: The Movie would pluck the Internet’s favourite reviewer of terrible old games out of his basement and into an ode to campy B-movies. As a longtime fan, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this for years.
Much of the fun in watching a series make the leap to the big screen is seeing what its creators can do with a longer running time and a bigger budget, and James Rolfe has hinted at having greater talents than his (already great) projects allowed him to showcase. He’s made a name for himself by reviewing old video games in character, but he’s also released hundreds of movie review videos which showcase a deep knowledge and understanding of B-movies and cinema in general. The guy knows his stuff. (And on a personal level, when I attempted to find a career in movies, his passion was a key inspiration.)
It pains me to say that, while there are a few good laughs and some charming effects, Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is sorta bad.
In the series, the Nerd spends most of his time alone, although he’s sometimes joined by some sort of crude and cartoonish antagonist, like a pooping Bugs Bunny, a swearing Cowardly Lion, or Super Mecha Death Christ. He plays bad video games, exaggeratedly picks every nit, spews creative obscenities, drinks Rolling Rock beer, and commits over-the-top acts of violence on game cartridges. It’s not a complex character, but he’s rounded out by stories from Rolfe’s own youth, as well as his natural charisma and ability to play off of access to decades of old games.
Naturally, the big movie isn’t simply an extended game review. Naturally, it introduces other characters. The trouble is that these new characters are completely flat and do nothing to steal screen time from the star. No one follows any believable arc, and most of the actors aren’t bringing much to their roles. (It must be noted that a few of the performances are nice, with Robbie Rist, in particular, doing a fantastic job. It’s good to hear the voice of Mikey again so many years after the old Ninja Turtles trilogy.)
The Nerd’s defining characteristic is that he’s skeptical of supernatural myths. That, and he doesn’t want to review Atari’s E.T. game, even though that’s what the whole world wants from him. There’s this weird, running thing about how much the Nerd’s fans adore him. Rolfe’s always struck me as an incredibly humble guy, but in the universe of the movie, he has legions of followers proclaiming their love. They march, they chant, they show off tattoos in video montages, and it’s seldom played for laughs. Honestly, I think Rolfe was just trying to share his big movie with the people who made him (Internet) famous and donated to his budget, but it’s all too much with too little payoff. None of this is playing to the character’s strengths, nor is it bringing anything new to his story.
There’s a cleverness to the plot, which elaborately ties the infamously bad E.T. video game to the Roswell alien coverup, but the exposition is delivered so slowly and clumsily that it hardly matters. Like I said, the Nerd is at his best in the series when he’s giving huge reactions to minor grievances. but in the movie he just dismisses everything to do with E.T. and Roswell. Any comedian can tell you that, “Yes, and…” leads to funnier situations than denial. The Nerd’s unflappable skepticism, even more so than the one-note supporting cast, is the movie’s biggest misstep.
The look of the movie also demands a mention: It is ugly. So much of the fun here comes from the silly practical effects, but then the whole thing is smeared with nasty digital corrections. Lighting is always too blue or too blown out. The focus is either smudgy or too sharp. It’s not fair to mock a low-budget production for being made with cheap cameras, but nighttime shots are covered in digital noise. Poor green screen and effect compositing means people, props, and explosions are often totally disconnected from their backgrounds. Sound balancing is equally inconsistent. It’s not cute or funny. It’s distracting and bad.
If I sound harsh, it’s only because my expectations were high. This is not the movie I’ve been anticipating for years. This is not James Rolfe at the top of his game. It’s a movie that’s sometimes very funny, but more often kind of dull.
If you’ve never seen the online series, this is a terrible introduction to AVGN that will be mostly wasted on you. It’s a movie made for fans, but it’s lacking what I like about the show. I want to love it, and I definitely don’t hate it, but I also can’t recommend going out of your way to see it. It’s fine. Unfortunately, “fine” is neither good nor bad enough to make it a true B-movie classic.