Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Ever since we had personal computers, Hollywood has been making movies about kids getting in a pickle playing with them. Back to Matthew Broderick nearly setting off nuclear annihilation in 1983’s “War Games” up to last year’s “Unfriended,” about a half-dozen teenagers being stalked on social media, we learn that irresponsible teens and powerful electronic devices are not a good mix.
And here comes the latest cyber-thriller, “Nerve,” which sounds ludicrous until we realize all the technology that makes Pokémon Go possible could easily be repurposed this way, and already exists in our smartphones. It’s about teens accepting dares to do increasingly dangerous acts, with the rest watching as ghoulish witnesses, egging them on with money and instant fame.
Emma Roberts and Dave Franco -- who I’d like to point out are ages 25 and 31, respectively -- play the main couple, thrown together by the “watchers” of Nerve. It’s an open-sourced game with no one controlling it but deadly democracy. The watchers pay money for a voyeuristic thrill, which is then given to the players as a reward. Refusing a dare, or failing to complete it, means you’re out of the game and lose all the dough you’ve won.
Roberts is Vee, a bookish sort who sticks to photography and pining for boys she’s too shy to even talk to her. Her best friend, Sydney (Emily Meade), is already a star in Nerve. She’s after the thrill more than the money, since she’s a trust-fund baby; early on she gets suspended from school for showing her tushie during the cheerleading performance.
Too afraid to even tell her mom (a harried Juliette Lewis) that she’d prefer to go to an art school in California than local commuter college, Vee takes up the challenge to play Nerve. Her first dare is simple enough: kiss a stranger. She selects Ian (Franco) because he’s sitting in a diner reading one of her favorite books. But it turns out he’s a player too, and soon the watchers have upvoted them into a pair.
There’s a fun sequence where they’re directed to Bergdorf’s in Manhattan to try on ridiculously expensive clothes, then their own clothes are swiped (the dare of another player) and they are directed to leave the store immediately.
Vee may like breaking out of her wallflower mode, but crosses the line at shoplifting a $4,000 dress. Fortunately, she notices a loophole that the dare doesn’t say anything about keeping the clothes. So they strip to their skivvies and make a run for it; it’s an endearingly silly and flirty moment. Roberts and Franco are over-the-top cuties.
But things get much darker quickly -- like, riding Ian’s motorcycle at 60 m.p.h. while he’s blindfolded -- and ratchets up from there to deadly levels. Plus, other players up the ante, including Ty (Colson Baker), a punk type who looks like he walked off the set of the latest “Mad Max” movie.
Sydney, meanwhile, is nonplussed about the competition from her sidekick. And Tommy (Miles Heizer), a nerdy sweetheart who’s badly concealing a crush on Vee, attempts a late rescue with his hacker buddies to crash the game.
Directed by Henry Roost and Ariel Schulman from a screenplay by Jessica Sharzer, based upon a novel by Jeanne Ryan, “Nerve” is decent disposable entertainment that really wants to be a cautionary tale.