The short version (TLDR as the kids say) is that Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is funny. Really funny. Last night, my fiancee and I saw the movie in a sold out movie theater in Seattle, surrounded by other fans. And while that’s the ideal way to see it, this is one I can see really taking off once it hits home video and people can rewatch for all the silly little one-liners and slapstick. That said, I went into this film with some trepidation. Before we saw the film, I’d read a few online reviews that claimed it was only “okay” and some saying it wasn’t completely professional. I strongly disagree. Read on for my spoiler-free review.
I discovered the Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN) somewhere in early 2005. If you aren’t aware, he’s played by James Rolfe as a grouchy gamer who reviews the worst games (primarily from the original Nintendo but crossing all platforms). They make him mad and his foul-mouthed tirades combined with his insightful commentary on what makes a game work or fail combines to make for a very entertaining ongoing series of hilarious reviews. Rolfe has made short films his whole life and when AVGN struck a cord with an audience, he committed to the role and videos in an impressive way. While there’s never been any budget to speak of, his ambition is always on full display and the videos are well lit and edited. He frequently has guest characters like Spider-Man or Bugs Bunny or Freddy Krueger show up. They make me laugh. Your mileage may vary. The best part of his movie is that it opens up into a mainstream story and will appeal to people that aren’t necessarily hardcore gamers.
Rolfe co-wrote and co-directed the film with one of his friends, Kevin Finn. For their first film, it’s impressive. The film was funded entirely by crowdsourcing, with his fans donating $325,000 to the film. To make a movie that looks this good and is this well-paced and funny on that budget is especially impressive.
The film quickly establishes that the Nerd makes these videos but to his angry befuddlement it has led to fans buying and playing many of these bad games ironically. The one game everyone has requested for years for him to review is E.T., the real-life Atari game that completely bombed and cost Atari so many millions of dollars it in turn led to a video game industry collapse for years until Nintendo came along. There’s a real-life urban legend that Atari buried millions of copies of unsold games in a desert in Nevada. A game developer named Cockburn has decided to capitalize on gamers ironically buying bad games by making a sequel to E.T. that promises to be even worse and a young executive, Mandi, wants to get the Nerd to review it to spike their sales. The hype riles up the fans who all beg him to review it and lead to the Nerd having nightmares. The movie is essentially a road movie, with the Nerd grudgingly agreeing to go to an excavation in Nevada to put an end to the cries for him to review E.T. He believes there are no copies buried there and he can squash all interest in the legend.
Cooper collaborates with Mandi to fund their trip and excavation but once in Nevada, their discussions of extra terrestrials leads to an accident prone and erratic general stationed nearby in Area 51 to believe they are on to the fact that the U.S. really does have a captured alien. To say any more would be to give away the twists and turns the story takes but it does involve E.T.’s actual programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw, scientists from Area 51, Cooper’s strange ideas on religion and the complete destruction of Las Vegas.
The film features some fantastic performances. Mandi and Cooper, the co-leads, are very funny and total pros. A scientist named Dr. Zandor, played by Time Winter, is a huge highlight. These are not local theater actors. They’re completely convincing. A cameo by comedian Eddie Pepitone early in the film highlights not only the humor that can be found in filthy language but also the occasionally absurd world this operates in. The world is grounded but prone to cartoonish escalation and slapstick. The special effects are sometimes enhanced with some CG but the film primarily relies, to hilarious effect, on very obvious models. Jets and vans are blown up with fireworks but it doesn’t take you out of the movie. It feels like that’s just how this world operates. The script is really, really solid. It sets up the character arcs, it pays them off. It has a winding plot with lots of strange elements that I couldn’t figure out how they would fit together – but they did!
James Rolfe is surprisingly strong as the lead. He’s been playing the character for years, but I had the same concerns anyone would have with a Saturday Night Live sketch blown up to 2 hours of storytime. Does it hold up? Well this movie is far closer to Wayne’s World than It’s Pat. While the budget may be modest compared to a studio picture, every dollar they had is up there on screen. The shots look sharp and well lit. The sound is clear and resonant. They have interesting locations. Some stuff, like Las Vegas or Japan is represented with obvious greenscreen. But they really don’t try to hide that. It’s established early in a driving scene that that’s how the movie will do things and they have fun with it. The music is especially fantastic, coming from Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).
I haven’t laughed this consistently in a movie for quite a while. I laughed more than in 22 Jump Street, which so far has been the comedy I’ve laughed at the most in a theater. I laughed more here. I had a coughing fit because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t get air. At the end of the day, that’s really the only thing you can ask out of a comedy. I give this film 3 out of 3 thumbs.