Michael Bergeron
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Imaginary Games: “Nerve”

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The double-dog-dare film of the summer Nerve mixes current smartphone gaming obsession with death defying stunts. Some scenes are painfully less realistic than others but when Nerve has a full-on metal jacket the concept works. By the end, expect Nerve to take the easy way out and become preachy and complacent.

Emma Roberts and Dave Franco (dude has a serious six-pack) star as millennials caught up in an interactive smartphone game that separates the players into watchers and players. Players play for free and watchers pay nineteen-dollars plus change to watch for a selected period. The game involves an escalating series of dares. Kiss a stranger in public (three figures), walk out of a department store in your underwear (four figures), one-arm hang from a high-rise construction crane for five seconds (five figures deposited into your account). Players must use their phones to transmit the antics, and based on the number of watchers, they advance in the game.

Roberts in particular owns certain scenes in this film with her complete immersion into a conflicted character. She’s bright and dull like an alternating current. Roberts has always exceeded in smaller indie themed films. Think about her uproarious role in Scott Coffey’s Adult World (2013).

Lionsgate will distribute this film in front of more screens than were able to enjoy the aforementioned Adult World. This petit actress (daughter of Eric Roberts, niece of Julia Roberts) has some boss moves. She’s not even old enough to know who Stanislavski is, yet she has the kind of emergency compassion one expects from an old school thespian.

Dave Franco always seems to channel James Franco light; it’s almost a shame they look so much alike. They should make a bunch of films together similar to the output of brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez that cross mainstream genre borders – like Men at Work. Then I could take Dave Franco more seriously. As the male ingénue, he hits all his marks but he can’t keep up with Roberts for zest appeal.

The stunt that had me on the edge of my seat was one where they take a ladder and extend it between two windows on adjacent, but really close, apartment buildings. Everyday professional mountain climbers use this technique on routine trips across glaciers. The shots of the precarious ladder include point-of-view angles showing distorted inklings looking over-your-shoulder. That was hair raising.

Yet a sequence where the protag has to drive a motorcycle with a blindfold through busy streets was so patently contrived it drove me out of the movie. That last bit of action didn’t have the correlation between editing and the actual acceleration to make it work.

All said and done, Nerve will play best to those who devote fanatical time to playing imaginary games. The sense of suspense that lasts approximately two-thirds of the movie might fool random viewers looking for a new bag of popcorn.