While absorbing all the cutting-edge, social media visual fireworks of “Nerve,” I wondered:
Ten or 20 years from now, will the offspring of millennials watch this movie via the chip implanted in their heads and laugh at how corny and clunky and outdated it is?
I suppose so. Even though “Nerve” is filled with colorful eye candy and loaded with internet jargon and references cut and pasted from the latest website headlines, it has the overall vibe of a film trying too hard to be RIGHT NOW RELEVANT and trying way too hard to serve up meaningful commentary about how kids these days are living their lives via their phones and tablets, when they should look up and embrace the people, places and things they can actually reach out and touch.
And for all of its “of-the-moment-ness,” this film brims with High School Movie Cliches and borrows just a tad here and there from other (and much better) action thrillers, from “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” to “The Hunger Games.”
Emma Roberts stars as Venus “Vee” Delmonico, a smart, sweet, shy high school senior who lives on Staten Island with her clingy but hardworking mother Nancy (Juliette Lewis), who works the night shift as a nurse/physical therapist because that’s a go-to job for hardworking moms in films like this.
Dad is nowhere to be found. Venus had an older brother, a popular, risk-taking type, but he died two years ago. If the cause of death is mentioned I missed it, but I’m pretty sure it was Movie Cliché Dead Sibling Syndrome.
Vee wants to be a photographer. Judging by her technique as she runs and bounces along with the football team at a pep rally and snaps away, she might not be the next Annie Leibovitz.
Emily Meade plays Venus’ free-spirited, wild-child best friend Sydney, while Miles Heizer is Venus’ loyal and nerdy sidekick Tommy, who of course is secretly in love with Venus and wishes she would get over her crush on a dimwit dreamboat type. (This kid should have watched “Pretty in Pink” and saved himself four years of useless pining.)
Mr. Heizer is a youthful-looking 22 and could pass for an 18-year-old high school student. Ms. Roberts is 25. Ms. Meade is 27. In the tradition of countless high school movies, they play students but they look more like young teachers.
Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, working from a screenplay by Jessica Sharzer (based on a 2012 novel), give us accurate and entertaining full-screen images of Vee’s desktop computer as she navigates the Internet, as well as images from other character’s phones —and even some creative shots showing the characters from the viewpoint of the cameras in their devices. They have talent.
The wild and crazy Sydney is a top player of “Nerve,” a wildly popular interactive online game in which one is either a Player or a Watcher.
Watchers pay $19.95 per 24 hours to suggest real-time dares for Players. (Where are these high school kids getting the money to fund a gaming habit that would cost $139.65 a week, nearly $600 a month, and a whopping $7,200 a year?)
Players remain in the game for as long as they successfully complete dares, which can range from the relatively tame (kissing a stranger in a diner for five seconds) to the genuinely risk-taking (climbing a construction crane) to the monumentally stupid (walking across a ladder extended between two apartments high above the ground, with only the pavement and certain death below).
Spurred on by a public embarrassment, Vee joins “Nerve” as a Player — and over the course of one REALLY long evening, she catapults to the Top Ten of the national rankings of Players.
Dave Franco plays the mysterious, motorcycle-riding Ian, who becomes Vee’s partner in the game. The ridiculously named rapper/actor/performing artist Machine Gun Kelly aka Colson Baker gives an overwrought performance as the “Nerve” Player known as Ty, who dresses like a character from the latest Mad Max movie (which is noted in the movie) and acts like a complete moron.
As luck (and the screenplay) would have it, this year’s tournament final is scheduled for this very night in New York City. (Kinda sucks if you’re playing the game in other parts of the country, right?)
Vee, Ian, Sydney, Ty and hundreds other millennials engage in increasingly dangerous stunts to accumulate cash and advance in the tournament, while thousands upon thousands of Watchers experience every moment on their phones and tablets. (Of course, parents and the “lamestream media” seem utterly oblivious to this phenomenon.)
“Nerve” makes some legitimate points about our voyeuristic culture and how so many young people treat every inch of their lives as if they’re celebrities — constantly chronicling their adventures on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc. But these points are obvious, and they’re hammered home. A late-movie scene featuring passionate speeches by Vee and Ian is embarrassing.
Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are just fine, but there’s no huge onscreen spark between them. Most of the supporting roles are thinly drawn and forgettable.
As for the film:
Mute. Unfollow. Block. Delete.
Lionsgate presents a film directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and written by Jessica Sharzer, based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic materials involving dangerous and risky behavior, some sexual content, language, drug content, drinking and nudity – all involving teens). Opens Wednesday at local theaters.