A modern moral fable for the digital age?

Nerve has lots of things going for it. An excellent concept, a solid-to-good cast and directors who are dab hands at manipulating audiences. Ariel Schulman (brother of Nev) and Henry Joost directed Catfish (2010) which is one of the best documentary films from the 21st century. The fact that six years on it is still unknown if it actually is a documentary only emphasizes just how good a film it is. It’s approach going one way then tacking a totally unexpected diversion is only one of the similarities it shares with their latest venture. There’s also the utilisation of social media – just how much trust the little rectangular shaped device we never leave home without?

Vee (Emma Roberts) is a high school senior currently in the process of trying to tell her mother (Juliette Lewis) that she wants to leave home in Staten Island and go to an arts school on the other side of the country. It’s not the first time she’s shied away from life, she shies away from most things. However when Sydney (Emily Meade), her best friend,  teasing goes too far Vee decides to prove she’s a Player not a Watcher by signing up to Nerve. Nerve is an online truth or dare game, only without the truth. All though her other best friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) is against her participating the first dare goes well and even leads her to teaming up with Ian (Dave Franco), a fellow Player. But as the dares escalate in terms of risk and the manipulation becomes all-consuming it looks like Vee is trapped in the game.

To begin, I just want to start with a bit of a moan about this film. It’s my main issue with it actually – just how ‘old’ these ‘teenagers’ actually are.  Let’s go through the stats: Emma Roberts (25 years old),  Dave Franco (31 years old), Emily Meade (27 years old), Kimiko Glenn (27 years old), Marc John Jefferies (26 years old), and Machine Gun Kelly (26 years old, and yes, apparently that is his name…) It’s hilarious that the average age of the cast is almost a decade older than the characters they are playing. I know Nerve is not alone with this,  I remember finding it hilarious when I found out the cast’s ages of Glee, but I found it far more grating here. For a film that becomes increasingly clunky/ preachy with its moralistic message it almost becomes insulting to have a cast who really don’t look 17/18 feigning at being teens. HOWEVER, the cast are reasonably charismatic enough to get away with this and certainly allow the film to chug away in an entertaining enough manner.

Like many films of this genre it’s  based on a high concept and mostly original idea yet doesn’t quite manage to become more than the sum of its parts. It’s the kind of film that when you really think about it falls apart completely and once you finish watching you won’t really remember. AND if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve pretty much seen the entire movie. It doesn’t say anything new about the dangers of the web, is full of cliched outlines rather than characters but does what it sets out to do reasonably well. It’s one of the first film’s to accurately reflect the sea of mobile phone screens that feature within every crowd of people. Plus there’s a Roy Orbison track 

Think A Cinderella Story (2004) meets Hunger Games (2012). A tale for teens that will just about entertain adults for the length of it’s 90 minute running time.


‘Nerve’ is in cinemas now.


Now You See Me: The Second Act

A sequel that will hopefully disappear into thin air

After being persuaded (read: forced!) by my friend Sam to watch ‘Now You See Me’ I was pleasantly surprised – the cast were charismatic enough,  the tricks they pulled off were entertaining and, aside from a plot twist that made no sense whatsoever, it was a nice slice of fantasy entertainment. 24 hours later, after coming out of its sequel, I felt no such positivity.  ‘Now You See Me: The Second Act’ is bland, boring and blithely bloated. You come out of the cinema not feeling fooled or tricked – but scammed for giving up 129 minutes of your life for such maddening rubbish.

One year on since they outwitted the FBI and the Four Horsemen have become Three – J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) , Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) – as the ‘lady horseman’ grew tired of waiting around for further instructions from the Eye. Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is still working at the FBI, doing all he can to keep the Horsemen in hiding and under the radar. He sets the Horsemen a new mission to hijack the launch party of a new software, inviting Lula (Lizzy Caplan) to join them. The mission gets hijacked by Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) who kidnaps the Horseman and forces them to use their skills to go steal a data-mining device. Dylan has no idea where the Horseman are so breaks Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to help find them. What are the chances that vengeance-seeking Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) may be involved somehow?

Writing the above paragraph was exceptionally difficult in the attempt to avoid being convoluted as that is what the film is – a far too convoluted series of ‘tricks’ that make no sense whatsoever. Whereas the first film was fun and flashy this one gets bogged down by attempts at pathos. Much of the plot is devoted to Ruffalo’s character mourning the death of his magician father 30 years on. This wouldn’t be so bad a plot point  were it not for the fact that Dylan is not a likeable enough character for the plot to hinge on and the fact it doesn’t go anywhere. There’s also an overwhelming sense when watching these sequences that the filmmakers are hoping for a third movie with a seemingly impossible reunion.

If magic is entertaining the masses with the impossible this film is the opposite – entertaining no one with the improbable. Very rarely does the story actually make sense – with the twists, trickery and questionable character motivations trying so hard to be clever they end up failing. That’s also true of some of the dialogue which regularly made no sense whatsoever. Ordinarily I’d then quote of one these lines as evidence but they must have been that ridiculous that my frontal lobe totally rejected storing them for future reference.

These crimes against cinema would be somewhat forgivable if the characters were likeable or the cast were enjoyable to watch. Sadly that is not a saving grace here. My disdain for characters played by Jesse Eisenberg continues, Dave Franco is unbearably vanilla and Radcliffe is supremely irritating. Harrelson would be the film’s saving grace  were it not for the fact he ends up playing a dual role as the evil twin brother of his character. He’s  so stereotypically camp that it’s offensive, his costume horrendously cheap and played so hammily you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. Lizzy Caplan is a welcome addition – as she is to everything she stars in – yet is still stuck in a one-dimensional role as a manic pixie girl type chasing after Dave Franco’s character. Although she is given some rather meta dialogue – about being the ‘lady horseman’ and who will be playing the ‘floozy’ when they go undercover – these are not admirable additions by the script writer. More the least they could do by using such one dimensional characterisation.

Although there is one impressive set piece (the heist to steal the data chip) and it was more than thrilling to see my ‘ends on the big screen (hello Greenwich!) the rest of the film is lacking in warmth, wit and, well, magic. It’s short on logic and right now seems to represent this year’s very dull summer of blockbusters.

1 star