Virtually Heroes: Sundance Review

Virtually Heroes

U.S.A. (Director: GJ Echternkamp, Screenwriter: Matt Yamashita)

Two self-aware characters in a Call of Duty-style video game struggle with their screwy, frustrating existence. To find answers, one abandons his partner and mission, seeking to unravel the cheat codes of life. Cast: Robert Baker, Brent Chase, Katie Savoy, Mark Hamill, Ben Messmer.


Amusing gimmick carries a shoestring-budget comedy about combat video games.

G.J. Echternkamp's debut feature embraces the Roger Corman ethic by reusing footage from anonymous '80s war films.

PARK CITY — A gonzo project even by exec-producer Roger Corman's standards, G.J. Echternkamp's Virtually Heroes finds a way to reuse a shameless amount of footage from the New Horizons vaults while both making that reuse legit and letting users in on the joke. Trashy fun that aims low and more or less hits the mark, it should please young gamers who need a VOD break in between rounds of Call of Duty.

Sergeants Books and Nova (Robert Baker and Brent Chase) aren't your average battle-hardened, wisecrack-spewing soldiers. They're characters in a Vietnam War-set videogame, and they know it. If, after the first few combat set pieces, they get killed by a Viet Cong ambush, they simply reappear the first place we met them and fight the same battles again -- all shot from the same camera angles, with the same overblown explosions sending the same enemies flying through the air.

These scenes are scavenged from countless 1980s New Horizons war films, and no attempt is made to hide the visual difference between vintage footage and new stuff, shot on low-rent sets that barely meet the "generically primitive Vietnam location" standard.

Baker and Chase offer enjoyably pulpy tough-guy comedy while Echternkamp and screenwriter Matt Yamashita throw in just enough gaming references -- Books' knapsack holds as many weapons as Mary Poppins's magic bag could carry -- to keep audiences chuckling. A quest to rescue Katie Savoy's "sexy lady reporter" (being held captive by a general who can fill hours with nonsensical Colonel Kurtz monologues) offers a narrative goal, while the late appearance of Mark Hamill -- as a monk offering Kung Fu-like wisdom regarding the spiritual secrets of the gaming universe -- livens things up enough to make it to the 80-minute mark.

Production Company: New Horizons Picture Corp
Cast: Robert Baker, Brent Chase, Katie Savoy, Mark Hamill, Ben Messmer
Director-Producer-Editor: G.J. Echternkamp
Screenwriter: Matt Yamashita
Executive producer: Roger Corman
Director of photography: James Mann
Production designer: Brandon Nicholas        
Costume designer: Amber Becton, Camille Rousseau        
Sales: Paradigm
No rating, 82 minutes