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Total Crap: 7.41%

2 reviews, 15 user ratings

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Games People Play
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by Erik Childress

"A Brilliant, Damning Satire Or Another Piece Of The Reality Pie?"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2003 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: Anyone who has spent time with me, read anything I’ve written or has listened to me ramble on endlessly knows how I feel about the reality TV craze. Uncreative, cheaply produced pieces of trash that take jobs away from talented writers and actors while providing an outlet for wannabe fameseekers to have their 15 minutes while taking countless blocks of time away from us all. I hate them all. There have been surprisingly few attempts at satirizing the whole genre, outside of some direct-to-video nudefests and the only successful outing, Series 7: The Contenders. Games People Play does not announce itself as a documentary nor does it establish a faux-spoof slant. When it was all over, I had no idea what its intention was, but I knew I had been entertained, made angry and will be thinking about it for a long time.

The impetus of the film (or its story) is director James Ronald Whitney’s intention to shoot a pilot for a new reality game show where contestants will compete in a series of hidden camera events for the sum of $10,000. An ad is placed in the New York paper and soon hundreds of wannabes are showing up in the street waiting for their opportunity to be chosen. Young, old, beautiful, out-of-shape, everyone shows up for what promises to be the most uninhibited game show ever produced.

The obvious stragglers are eliminated immediately just before round two is initiated. The finalists are asked to strut, pose, reveal intimate details of their lives and improvise a graphic three-minute love scene with their fellow interviewees. This section becomes an immediate entry point into the hilarity and utterly pathetic nature of fameseekers, all trying to flex and make an impression on not just the judges but the camera watching them. An audition process elevated to a soul-searching quest for success as face-by-forgettable face is plastered and numbered across the screen perfectly to the tune of David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure”, which becomes their sporting anthem the same way “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” are used to define a more traditional kind of celebrity.

Three men and three women are eventually chosen to be the contestants in what is a combination of the general categories of all reality shows. Games, hidden cameras and confessionals consisting of trying to secure urine from strangers for a drug test and who can seduce delivery boys and actresses the most successfully. And when the six of them aren’t giving it up full frontal, they’re baring their souls to a Dr. Laura lookalike judge/psychiatrist and her shadow who dig into their pasts in the kind of Real World-posturing that always felt like the most staged portion of that “reality.”

The game portions, taking up the middle of the film, are at times funny and ridiculous. It never gets down to the disgusting tactics of eating cow balls stuffed with zebra vomit (a la Fear Factor), but risks getting bogged down in its own kind of sleaziness. How far will those actresses go with the love scene after we’re reminded of Hollywood’s definition of “casting couch”? What if the delivery boy went further than touching the one girl’s ass after she dropped her towel in front of him? Will the cameras ever stop?

“Hopefully not” must be the answer for Joshua Coleman, Dani Marco, David Maynard, Scott Ryan, Sarah Smith and Elisha Imani Wilson whose 15 minutes stretched over a period of a 72-hour shooting cram session may be more significant than anyone could have guessed. For Games People Play takes on a kind of transcendant purity by its final frames for us and its stars. We’ve seen a lot of nudity and a prize has been awarded, but what we’ve really seen calls into question not just the previous hour but everything reality fans have become accustomed to and sold repeatedly week-after-week.

What then queries the mind is a triple-layer of “what have we just seen?” Whitney’s a self-described “reality whore” and he’s created a tightrope of satire and subjective voyeurism which toys with the audience’s expectations and at the same time gives everyone exactly what they expect. The seduction scenes rival and, in most cases, outperform the soft-core Cinemax brethren. The revealing interviews spliced into the game go well beyond the superficiality of Survivor and Real World breakdowns, achieving heartbreak, frustration and, ultimately, surprise.

It’s hard to satirize and to titillate at the same time, but perhaps the two are siamise soulmates that will never be excised. Whitney is already an accomplished documentarian with such works as “Just, Melvin” and “Telling Nicholas”, powerful films which dealt with family molestation and 9/11, so its nearly impossible to accuse him of just trying for a quick buck on the reality scene. Even after the back-and-forth reactions I had during the film, it was an inescapable presence in my mind long after I left the theater. I believe Whitney’s intentions are far loftier and I’ll back that up in future discussions of Games People Play. But with Games People Play: Hollywood and Games People Play: The Bible Belt on the way, are we looking at a trilogy with even more secrets up its sleeve or a series of films that will ultimately be hard to differentiate from every new American Idol/Paradise Hotel series debuting each week on television? In reality, it’s going to take a lot more than 15 minutes to discover the answer.

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originally posted: 06/27/03 08:38:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2003 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/08/04 Jay Fielret Hot and wicked fun 5 stars
4/06/04 Silvio Levy amusing throughout 5 stars
3/30/04 Neal Mimikos Enjoyed it immensely. Nice twist in the end! 5 stars
3/29/04 elly great fun. the cast is filled with promising actors. let's get some other projects in the 5 stars
3/26/04 Jason Great, fun film. Very different. The acting was great and i fell for everyting. 5 stars
3/26/04 hans christianson unbelievable 5 stars
3/26/04 Jeff Thompson Awesome film!!! 5 stars
3/26/04 mike great and funny!!! 5 stars
3/26/04 Kenny Gabor How unreal can reality get? 1 stars
3/12/04 Pashy Loved it! 5 stars
3/11/04 Lucie Lenburgeon Ridiculous smut! Even college kids would find this "romp" ridiculous. 1 stars
1/25/04 Melanie This is hands down the best movie of all time. James is brilliant in everything he does. 5 stars
10/19/03 suzy mccoppin awesome-adrenalized whirlwind of tears and nudity 5 stars
8/21/03 peter not so good 2 stars
7/24/03 Tara Carson It was very entertaining! Unique "Reality" Twist! 4 stars
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