Release: Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Written by: Jessica Sharzer
Directed by: Henry Joost; Ariel Shulman
If you accept the dare to watch Nerve, understand a few conditions first: 1) this is a teen-centric, sexed-up adventure thriller set in the Twitter Age, thereby you are volunteering up brain cells you’re never going to use again; 2) James Franco’s not in it, his lesser talented and less interesting younger brother is, along with Emma Roberts who is just as bland; 3) the film ends in such a way you may find yourself requesting a refund. If you accept these terms and conditions, by all means log in and join the action.
Based on Jeanne Ryan’s 2012 novel of the same name, Nerve addresses the addictive nature of social media and the Insta-Fame effect. It creates a world parallel to ours in which a kind of sadistic, cyber version of Truth-or-Dare (minus the Truth part) has become extremely popular. Er, rather, has ‘gone viral.’ Curious surfers are given the choice to either be a Watcher or a Participant — the film even helps itself to The Matrix‘ supply of red/blue pills in thinking we would feel shortchanged without the extremely hackneyed visual.
Watchers, yup, they just sit and observe (like total buzzkills) and Participants agree to do crazier and crazier things as requested by the Watchers, for increasingly large cash prizes. Sure enough, it has cost the lives of participants, as was the case one year in Seattle. Some poor sap apparently fell from the top of an industrial super-crane. Nerve enthusiast Ian (Dave Franco) witnessed the tragedy first-hand. How convenient that he happens to be Vee’s first challenge (kiss a random stranger for $100), parked in the very diner where she’s finally trying out the game “just this once.” She’s trying Nerve just so she stops feeling like the loser her friends have made her feel she is. It’s nice to see that peer pressure not only manifests as a theme but as an important plot device as well.
Unfortunately you can’t really just check this game out once and be done with it. There are two ways to lose the game: by Failing to complete a Dare or Bailing on it. When you lose, you don’t get the money. (I feel like there should be another consequence if you Bail, like Watchers reserve the right to kick your ass for being a ninny; merely losing the money just seems too easy.) Also, Snitches Get Stitches, people. Snitches . . . get . . . sti . . . I can’t believe I’m reviewing this movie. Long story short, Participants are strongly advised against seeking the appropriate authorities, even when you believe dares are getting out-of-hand. Even if they’re getting a little on the illegal side. If you do snitch, Watchers actually will come and kick your ass.
Nerve‘s frantic, coincidence-riddled narrative revolves chiefly around Vee’s experience as a Participant as she hooks up with Ian downtown and commits to a series of dares that have an immediate, positive impact on her bank account. Her mother, working the night shift as a nurse, is receiving a flood of notifications on her phone as a result. It’s raining virtual dolla-dollas! The adventure finds Vee completely breaking out of her shell — this happens so quickly you’d think she’s suffering from some sort of personality disorder — and leaving behind her boring, predictable self. To prove she’s got what it takes, I guess to be popular, she accepts one particular dare that demands she and Ian reach a speed of 60 miles an hour while the driver is blindfolded. Gee, I wonder how this turns out . . .
Character development is not a priority here, and it really should be. We shouldn’t feel numb when a friendship turns sour between Vee and her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade), when the latter accidentally overhears a private conversation between the two that Vee’s phone happens to pick up. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: one of the main complaints I’d like to file is the fact that in order for the game to work, they have to be capturing themselves on their phone’s camera. This naturally gives rise to a few preposterous moments.) We are supposed to laugh at the superficiality of Sydney’s concerns, that’s really the point. To all of this. Social media is the real enemy here!
Ignoring a plethora of contrivances — there are Watchers clinging to every single corner of the frame; they’re literally everywhere so dares come quick and they come often and always just at the right moment — Nerve still provides a perfectly serviceable experience for three quarters of its runtime. Energy levels remain high and the film glows in Michael Simmonds’ sleek cinematography. But then we run into the post-Hunger Games gladiatorial arena into which our internet sensation friends here are dropped and ordered to eliminate the other. The laziness of such a set-up should be enough to lose several, perhaps less patient followers — and then the twist happens. A twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud, a bizarre kink that shamelessly deletes the villainous human component in one fell swoop. It’s like we never needed it to begin with.
For what it’s worth, Franco and Roberts make a good team and while their characters certainly fail, the names are just enough to make Nerve tolerable, but not enjoyable. Everything you could possibly fear about a movie geared towards the post-Twitter teenage bracket Nerve squeezes in in 96 short minutes. It’s firmly rooted in escapist entertainment. That doesn’t mean there aren’t redeeming qualities, but predictably each opportunity the film is given to rise above and become something better it bails for an easy way out. #fail
Recommendation: Socially relevant commentary really could have used the Sophia Coppola touch. Her magic wand could have turned all the sexiness into something useful and she’s really good at crafting pictures aimed at an entitled generation who think the world revolves around them. Nerve, a giddy teen-centric outing that doesn’t really offer much at all, fits that bill. The end result is pretty disappointing given that the story has something to say.
Running Time: 96 mins.
Quoted: “Somebody is putting money into my account!” / “White people problems . . . “
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