'Angry Video Game Nerd': Fantasia Review

The Angry Video Game Nerd Movie Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Fantasia Festival

The Angry Video Game Nerd Movie Still - H 2014

An aspiring cult film that delivers the geeky goods. 

Video game enthusiasts unravel an enduring contemporary conspiracy theory in a microbudget comedy from Kevin Finn and James Rolfe.

Together with collaborator Kevin Finn, writer-director James Rolfe expands his prolific web series about a cranky video game reviewer to full feature length for the benefit of an international network of YouTube followers. Variable production quality, bargain-basement special effects and hammy performances won't deter fans of the original, but expansion beyond the current, limited theatrical tour and planned VOD and DVD releases looks fairly uncertain.

Multihyphenate Rolfe plays the titular Angry Video Game Nerd, whose principal mission in life is to record and upload severely critical reviews of mostly obsolete console and computer games. One that he won't revisit, however, is Atari's "E.T.," a release based on the 1982 movie. Widely considered one of the worst games ever, it memorably traumatized his childhood and became such a commercial failure that thousands of game cartridges were rumored to be disposed of in a New Mexico landfill.

The Nerd's insistent refusal to review the game wavers, however, when he's approached by Cockburn Gaming company representative Mandi (Sarah Glendening) to evaluate the new release "Eee Tee 2." Fearful that the title will encourage his vast network of fans to seek out the original game, provoking widespread consternation, the Nerd agrees to review Cockburn's product if the company will fund an expedition to the Alamogordo dump so that he can debunk the urban myth concerning Atari's massive game disposal. Together with Mandi and his admiring sidekick Cooper (Jeremy Suarez), the Nerd sets out on a cross-country crusade to save his fans from the never-ending threat of awful video games.

Although Rolfe's vitriolic reviews form the centerpiece of his web episodes, the feature film strategically incorporates his frequent rants (invariably delivered directly to the camera) as subsidiary components of this extravagantly conceived adventure. Beginning as a haphazardly planned road trip, their quest shifts into thriller mode when the group reaches New Mexico and encounters a former research scientist from a famously top-secret project who's concealing incriminating information about the Atari game. In its final phase, the film morphs into an off-kilter sci-fi comedy, although the filmmakers manage to capably anchor these disparate storylines to their central plot concerning crusading gamers. Similarities to Dr. Strangelove, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and of course E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial serve more as comedic reference points than artistic homages.

Proudly crowdfunded by fans worldwide, the film gleefully showcases B-movie excess and ineptitude, from the intentionally amateurish acting to the impressively DIY special effects. Rolfe, a bona fide Internet celebrity with over 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube, comes across as more of an on-camera provocateur than a polished performer, although his exaggerated style suits the material, with the rest of the cast pretty much following suit.

Even though overly long and almost obsessively self-indulgent, with its insistence on incorporating dubiously rendered alien life forms, homemade spacecraft and utterly unconvincing pyrotechnics, the production hovers above home-video quality by a few admirable notches. Cult status is therefore very likely assured, at least among self-identified video game nerds, particularly with featured cameos from the likes of Troma Films' Lloyd Kaufman and original Atari programmer Howard Scott Warshaw.

Production company: CineMassacre Productions
Producer: Sean Keegan
Executive producers: April Rolfe, James Rolfe
Director of photography:Jason Brewer
Production designer: Robin Brockway
Costume designer: Layne McGovern
Editors: Paul Fontaine, Michael Licisyn
Music: Bear McCreary
No Rating, 115 minutes