J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sundance ’13: Virtually Heroes


There was one film at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival 100% guaranteed to turn a profit.  We can tell this by the fact Roger Corman serves as its executive producer.  Although Corman was the subject of Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel which was a selection the 2011 edition of the festival, director G.J. Echternkamp’s Virtually Heroes marked Corman’s Sundance debut as a filmmaker this year in Park City.

Sgt. Books is a fully aware character in a Rambo style video game, who is getting increasingly frustrated with the futility of his existence.  His sidekick Sgt. Nova is far less so.  The impulsive Nova still enjoys the in-game killing as well as the post-fight preening. Books is only interested in Jennifer, the “sexy lady reporter” who has been captured by the Viet Cong, or whoever.  Unfortunately, she is always plunged back into jeopardy right every time she and Books start to share a moment.

VH largely repeats the same one-joke premise over and over, as Books and Nova work their way through successive levels of the video game.  Still, it is rather clever to have Mark Hamill, Mr. Videogame Voice-Over, appear as the mysterious Buddhist Monk.  However, from Corman’s perspective, it was a brilliant opportunity to re-use his old jungle exploitation action footage, with no need to worry about that pesky continuity.

Obviously, Corman was not about to fritter away good money on name actors either.  At least, Robert Baker looks the part of the brooding, square jawed Books.  For his part, Brent Chase earns a lot of points as the over-the-top testosterone-charged Nova, understanding full well his role in the mayhem.  Katie Savoy’s reporter is about as down-to-earth as is possible in a film like this, while Kiana Kim, the future Mrs. Pete Rose, adds further cult-camp appeal as a sleazy stripper (believe it or not).

This is definitely a meathead movie, but it tries hard.  Screenwriter Matt Yamashita clearly gets the gaming mentality, but too often VH resembles the first-person shooters it is lampooning.  While the film maintains it energy, the wit and originality flag over time.  A so-so midnight offering, Virtually Heroes still holds the distinction of bringing the Corman brand to Sundance.  Expect to find it coming soon to a Syfy Channel near you.

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