Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 04/12/06 02:04:49

"Earns More Experience Points Than Ten Happy Madison Productions"
5 stars (Awesome)

The great and tragic thing about the film festival circuit is that there are a handful of solid films that, for one reason or another, will never find an audience outside of them. Dramas and documentaries can be a tough sell, but for the life of me I canít understand why some of the best comedies Iíve seen of late since being part of said circuit have gone without further notice. In Memory of My Father and Windy City Heat still havenít hit theaters or DVD. Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story is finally getting a small release after two years in limbo while garbage like Dirty Love and films the studios wonít even show to the press are released. The common thread between those three particulars is the brand of mockumentary or captured reality revolutionized by Albert Brooks and made vogue by Christopher Guest and crew. Now along comes Gamers, a film as of April 2006 still awaiting its invite to a major film festival for its chance for a select and ultimately gracious few to discover it in all its sardonic, gut-busting lunacy.

Filmed through the lens of an ever-present camera crew, Gamers shares the story of a group of high school friends on the eve of breaking the longest streak of D&D competition. (Thatís Demons, Nymphs, and Dragons.) 23 years and some ridiculous 70,000+ hours after school, weekends and into their adult lives has the gang played and they are now one session away from snatching the record held by some Iowa corn farmers.

Paul (Scott Alan Rinker) has kept his own camera at his side taping every adventure, even their ill-fated prom. Gordon (Kevin Kirkpatrick) works another camera at a public access channel and was one of the victims of that dance having been stood-up by his high school crush (Meredith Zealy). Fernando (Joe Nieves) appears to be the only one with a life outside of the group. Having learned English through the language of the players, itís a miracle he ever got a girlfriend, let alone getting her pregnant. (ďHey baby, do you have a comeliness of 18?Ē) Kevin (Kevin Sherwood) is the Dungeon Lord who loves to get into character when not creating custom songs for parents, even those who named their children ďDickĒ. The final member of the platoon is Reese (Dave Hanson), unarguably amongst them the worst role-player in history. Heís suffering from the loss of his mega-hot female game character who was dispatched in eight seconds by Kevin and now wishes more than just ill-will upon him.

It goes without saying that several of their parents share a roof with these guys. Generally to doggedly mock such an easy target is met with an apprehension and dissatisfaction that the filmmakers have found the simplest possible way to get laughs. The 40 Year-Old Virgin was so special because it found humanity and a sweet center amidst the simple jabs. Sometimes though, a film will blaze straight through and doesnít demand that you like or approve of its characters (even if it secretly does.) Any of these guys would have made a more ideal candidate in Failure To Launch than Matthew McConaughey and it took all of about six minutes for me to be scream laughing with the kind of ferocity that draws the attention of neighbors; not annoyed but desperately wanting to enter the room and find out what is so damn funny.

Just attempt to get through the first fifteen minutes without wanting to rewatch Gordonís town meeting innovations or Reeseís profanity-laced tirade on Kevinís voicemail or the Ronald McDonald auditions which crossovers to gay porn just to see if it wasnít just an overreaction by your funny bone. Either calling in a few favors or having enough confidence in the material, Gamers manages to get some celebrity cameos who donít just pop in to be the biggest name in the cast but provide some invaluable comic flavor at times when some may be getting tired of just following the losers. John Heard and Beverly DíAngelo are quite funny as Gordonís swinging parents. Kelly LeBrock (despite a recent stint on the Celebrity Fit Club) still looks luscious as the mom everyone asks about. And if Reeseís boss looks familiar, youíre ahead of me, because itís actually a nearly unrecognizable William Katt who nails a hysterical monologue about the virtues of Madden football as opposed to role-playing games. (A later mention of Gordonís attempt to bring back classic shows like The Greatest American Hero is a nice touch.)

Writer/director Christopher Folino does overshoot a few of the gags. Anything involving some type of fluid from blood to semen usually goes on a bit too long and a KKK gag is too overt even for the most mindless of dungeon masters at first but evolves into a nice punchline thanks to the spit-take stupidity of radio callers trying to solve who created Eraserhead. If Gamers tries too hard sometimes, your pause in laughter may be equally due to just needing a break in the middle. After the priceless intro of the five guys (and flashbacks to even more psychotic players), the film settles in to bridge its way towards the big night and while it isnít quite as funny it still has more laughs than anything under the Happy Madison banner.

There was a great documentary at this yearís South by Southwest Festival called Darkon about real-life gamers participating not just with dice and notepads but homemade armor and actual battlefields. Itís a film worthy of a Hollywood narrative right down to its middle-class roots and finding meaning through fantasy. The guys in Gamers are hardly as ambitious, but everyone involved in making it still deserves an audience. Having premiered docs and mockumentaries about baseball, paintballers, role players and video game record breakers, it seems like a natural fit just with its synopsis. The fact that itís also superbly funny is just the icing. Conversely, Gamers would make a great addition to any film festival that would have it and Iím hoping to see it on the docket at any of the future fests that I attend.

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