'Game On: Time to Pull the Strings': Filmart Review
Online gaming and international finance come together in a USA/Hong Kong comedy by first-timer Aaron Palermo
Few subjects are more current—particularly in Hong Kong and across Asia—than online gaming and investment banking, and both are ripe for a takedown. Gaming has made (bigger) waves in the news lately for alleged misogyny, deaths due to marathon game play and other unseemly Internet behavior, and banking has a long history of misconduct so there’s plenty to say about both topics. First time director-writer-producer-editor Aaron Palermo’s Game On: Time to Pull the Strings tries in vain to make several points about their unsavory elements in a comedy where a group of game geeks crosses paths with a bitter expat banker in Hong Kong. Strangely, given the location, the ultra low-budget film isn’t really for Hong Kong audiences, and it’s hard to tell whom it is for. Game On’s fundamental cheapness will likely keep it out of many festival line-ups but the topic could earn it niche play and, not surprisingly, download distribution. But anyone looking for a polished production best look elsewhere.
Whether intended or not, Game On could serve as a dry (very dry) run for a possible film version of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and there are moments that feel positively Neal Stephenson-ish (if Stephenson were a worse writer), what with early references to online gaming having real world impact. But that’s as brainy as the film usually gets. Vijay, AKA Dr. Feelgood (Jay Neville) is an Overglobe MMO player who’s looking to get to the next level of game status. When he stumbles onto a way to join an elite team, the Seoul Brothers, he takes it (though his disapproving Space Invaders ace mother actually does the work on an application). Off he goes with his Corey Feldman-lite best buddy Buck (Billy Buck) to meet his SB contact Bondy—and it’s a girl! Bondy (Ailynn Murphy) is seeking vengeance for a Korean teammate who died at his keyboard, fully believing SB’s rival, Mr. Bermuda, is responsible. She also believes a banker called Clive (Jai Day) is that man. Clive has been finagled by one of his clients, whose illegal trading request has put him on the hot seat with his bosses. Clive? Really just wants to retire to a vineyard in Napa.
Game On crams a boatload of gaming issues into its overstuffed plot before it even gets to its second act banking con, and so never really gives any of the ideas—entirely valid ones—room to breathe. An amateurish cast doesn’t help matters either. The performances are stiff when they’re not over the top and the film’s tone makes it hard to tell if that’s part of a larger satire or just a budget constraint. Buck’s love interest and Bondy’s partner in crime (the reasons for this are too complicated to go into), Elysia, is played by Danielle Chupak, who was clearly hired for her considerable physical assets. Smarter writing could have played with that but what little meat is in the script is beyond Chupak's capacity. She's unequipped to make any kind of commentary on the low place women occupy in gaming culture through performance. There’s a pithy, insightful, timely film in here somewhere—Palermo’s spin on typical Wanchai “lads” is pretty funny, as are a few of Vijay’s fanboy one-liners—but Game On ultimately feels like a work in progress rather than a finished piece. And it must be noted there is very little actual gaming in the movie.
Production company: Overglobe Pictures, Aadi Shakti Entertainment
Cast: Jay Neville, Billy Buck, Jai Day, Danielle Chupak, Ailynn Murphy
Director: Aaron Palermo
Screenwriter: Aaron Palermo
Producer: Aaron Palermo, Craig Addison, Suresh Dagur
Executive producer: James Foley, Steve Kerr, Remo Notarianni, Andrew Ng
Director of photography: John Christian
Production designer: Louisa Hoi-Tung Leung
Editor: Aaron Palermo
Music: Aaron Palermo
World sales: Dragon Horse Films
No rating, 104 minutes