(On Cable TV, April 2017) Mark me down as pleasantly surprised by energetic teenage techno-thriller Nerve. It’s got an intriguing premise coupled with a rather good execution, and it doesn’t take itself all that seriously nor pretend that it’s anything other than what it is. Adapted from a novel (but wisely choosing to lighten up the original material), Nerve takes current anxieties about social media and puts them into a blender. What comes out is a mobile game in which participants are asked to perform increasingly dangerous dares for an audience of thousands. Smartphones are essential, and so are throngs of followers. Our heroine (Emma Roberts, rather good) falls into the rabbit-hole by accident, but it doesn’t take a long time for her to be stuck alongside a bad-boy teammate (Dave Franco, decent enough) as the stakes increase. (Elsewhere in casting, fans of Orange is the New Black will be amused to see two of the series’ distinctive actresses, Kimiko Glenn and Samira Wiley, back on-screen albeit not necessarily together.) While clearly aimed at a teenage audience, Nerve does benefit from directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s sense for the zeitgeist and keeping things moving. New York City makes for a fun playground to the action, and the film doesn’t quite shy away from ruminating on the viewer’s complicity in outlandish internet stunts. It’s a teenage film that couldn’t exist as such if it had been made for adults, and that’s quite a distinction by itself. Otherwise, Nerve is a tight 96-minutes thriller, perfect to watch as long as expectations are kept low enough to be surprised.
(Video on Demand, June 2015) I usually find Vince Vaughn annoying, which is not really a good portent when watching a film built around him. But this time around, Vaughn looks as if he’s slowly stretching out of his overgrown frat-boy persona as a family man heading out for a crucial business trip. I’m not suggesting that his humor is any more mature than his usual shtick – but in Unfinished Business, he shows signs that he’s at least trying to play his age. It helps that hi co-stars, Tom Wilkinson as a sex-obsessed pre-retiree and Dave Franco as a too-dumb-to-live youngster, take up a lot of his usual immaturity routine. The result isn’t necessarily a good movie: Unfinished Business is dumb even by Vaughn standards, with crude humor sabotaging whatever emotional core the film tries to build as foundation. But it’s unsatisfying for reasons that don’t necessarily have to do with Vaughn himself, and that’s already an improvement over much of his filmography. As for Unfinished Business, what’s to mention? A good small role for Nick Frost. Far more nudity (of both genders) than you’d expect. A far too long time-jump at the end of the prologue. I suppose that the film’s biggest flaw is how it unsuccessfully tries to navigate a middle-road between family-friendly sentiment and outrageous raunchiness. Unfinished Business feels padded despite a short running time and while the basic laughs are there, there’s also a sense that it should be much better.