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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.14%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 7.14%
Pretty Bad85.71%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 2 user ratings

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by Brett Gallman

"Not very daring."
2 stars

There’s a cruel irony to the internet: while it’s arguably mankind’s greatest achievement—a tool that has theoretically unified much of the world—it’s been the quickest, most efficient platform for people to just be completely awful to each other. Whatever useful, neat, or even revolutionary thing that’s emerged from it, chances are it’s been corrupted or coopted in some way, especially when it comes to social media, where everyone has a voice. It’s just too bad that so many of those voices belong to total assholes. Anyway, that’s the (very vague) threat behind the premise of “Nerve,” a breezy bit of techno-paranoia that really only cares about how all of this applies to high school drama. It’s maybe a few steps away from being a PSA for cyberbullying when it could be so much more.

Instead, it’s a hook in search of an actual movie since it only settles for low-stakes teenage angst. Vee (Emma Roberts) is a high school senior struggling with her decision to follow her mother’s advice by settling for a local college after graduation. She’d much rather move across the country to a California arts school, but she can’t bring herself to break the news to her mother. Likewise, she can’t work up the courage to talk to the boy she has a crush on, as she’s generally content to hang back while her more outgoing friend Sydney (Emily Meade) basks in all of the attention. In millennial parlance, Vee is basic AF.

So imagine everyone’s surprise when she decides to sign up for Nerve, the latest online phenomenon that allows users to take dares in exchange for money. Those taking the dares (The Players) face three possible outcomes: they complete the dares, fail, or bail. Most importantly, users are expected to never report to authorities no matter how dangerous—or illegal—the dares become. Truly, Vee is in unchartered territory when she embarks on a wild night that finds her joining up with fellow player Ian (Dave Franco), much to the delight of an audience that’s chomping at the bit to stretch them to their limits.

The big takeaway here is that Nerve itself is a terrific concept, perhaps one that deserves a better movie. Not only is it thematically fertile, but it opens so many intriguing avenues to explore—you can imagine an entire world and its stories springing from a fairly fully-formed premise. How disappointing is it, then, that it settles for this: a half-hearted teen drama that’s bursting with the sort of betrayal, fractured friendships, and potential love interests that you’d find on your average CW show. It almost reminds me of the first “Purge” film, which wasted its intriguing hook on a substandard, narrow-minded home invasion movie you’d already seen a dozen times before.

Maybe if the characters were well-drawn enough, the approach would be justified; however, these caricatures are so thin that it gives the impression that this talented set of performers is slumming it. They only exist to move from one set-piece to the next, anxiously spitting out soundbytes that provide the barest minimum of character motivation or some explanation whenever the rules need to be untangled. Appropriately enough, they’re basically shallow avatars.

To its credit, “Nerve” as least breezes right along, coasting on a natural, train-wreck intrigue that puts the audience in the shoes of those who simply choose to rubberneck at the game itself. Like a bad pulp novel that has you furiously turning its pages despite itself, the film engages the reptile part of your brain that’s only interested to see what kind of mess this bunch will get into. The only problem here is that you don’t particularly care if they get out of it—only how, which is a big difference. Watching the proceedings unravel in increasingly ludicrous fashion is the film’s chief pleasure, and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman inject them with a breathless verve (though I suppose some credit is also due to an editing team charged with cobbling together a mish-mash of disparate footage).

Joost and Schulman are no strangers to exploring the perils of technology, having helmed the incisive “Catfish,” a film that’s especially meditative compared to the zippy, shallow junk on display here. Only occasionally do you sense the duo is really interested in observing how technology has consumed our lives, such as when they quietly hover over Vee’s virtually wordless digital routine, which has her cycling through various apps and social networks to interact with the world around her. Between this and the casual integration of avatars and screen names overlaid throughout the film, you come to realize just how much we’ve come to accept this intrusion; hell, the movie itself barely blinks when it reveals that Nerve is authorized to pull players’ personal information from their online footprint.

Only towards the end does “Nerve” really seem to confront these obvious perils, and even then, it’s only the means to and end for its obligations as a thriller: of course, it all degenerates into a race against the clock as characters spout off buzzwords that assure the audience that the screenwriters have at least heard of stuff like “the dark net” and “bots.” They, too, are simply tools deployed to shuttle the plot along to an inevitable chicken-shit conclusion where the film balks at making any kind of a real statement.

Instead, it stands pat, content to be the umpteenth vehicle for teenage anxiety; more specifically, it’s very much a set of “white people problems,” as one character aptly puts it, practically inviting the audience to realize just how much of a missed opportunity it is. It’s bad enough that Vee isn’t even motivated to play “Nerve” in order to pay for her art school tuition; rather, she’s doing it because she’s simply trying to prove that’s she’s not boring. Imagine how much more potent this film might be if it really explored what kind of socio-economic situations might make someone desperate enough to put their lives at stake for money. I’m not one to harp on what a movie should have been, but that throwaway line of dialogue makes you wish “Nerve” were about something more than a fairly well-off Staten Island white girl gaining the courage to go off to a California arts school.

It’s more than a little gauche, though that’s to be expected from a film that pulls punches at every turn. Ironically enough, “Nerve” has very little: when faced with the chance to say or be about something, it chooses to bail.

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originally posted: 07/27/16 09:06:40
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User Comments

11/05/16 David Hollingsworth A passable but cliched take on social media. 3 stars
9/02/16 Angel Baby Araiza I loved this movies all the twist and turns not knowing who she could trust. would watch ag 5 stars
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  27-Jul-2016 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-Oct-2016


  DVD: 25-Oct-2016

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