[Screen It]


(2016) (Emma Roberts, Dave Franco) (PG-13)

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Dramatic Thriller: A number of high school students get involved with an online game that includes completing increasingly risky dares for cash.
Vee Delmonico (EMMA ROBERTS) is a high school senior who lives in Staten Island with her nurse mom, Nancy (JULIETTE LEWIS). Vee has always played second fiddle to her more outgoing friend, Sydney (EMILY MEADE), and her friends including Liv (KIMIKO GLENN) and Wes (MARC JOHN JEFFERIES). Sydney is really into the online game Nerve where participants are broken into two groups. There are the players, such as Sydney and Ty (COLSON BAKER) who are up near the top of the leader board in terms of cash earnings and followers based on them completing various dares created by the watchers.

But Vee isn't one of them as she doesn't even have the courage to let high school football star J.P. (BRIAN MARC) know she's interested in him. When Sydney ends up embarrassing her in front of J.P., Vee runs home and signs up for the game, much to the chagrin of her platonic best friend and fellow classmate, Tommy (MILES HEIZER). Vee's first dare is to kiss a stranger and she ends up picking out Ian (DAVE FRANCO) in a diner, initially unaware that the game sent him there for her. After making out, they become a game favorite and are soon tasked with completing more dares together, something Vee is initially hesitant to do, but eventually gets into it.

But as she does, she quickly learns that the dares keep escalating, all of which puts her and Ian in increasing amounts of peril and danger to the point that they find themselves prisoners of the game where the only way out is to win.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
With a few notable exceptions, back when Andy Warhol made his now-famous comment about everyone getting their fifteen minutes of fame, it usually took a considerable amount of time and/or effort to get to that point. After all, if you didn't appear on the evening TV news or have your story picked up by some other national press, word of mouth was the only other alternative, and a slow-moving one at that.

Nowadays, overnight sensations are literally that. Just look at Candace Payne, a.k.a. The Chewbacca Mask Lady, who recorded a video of herself laughing while wearing said mask. The Internet then immediately blew up (in 5 days it had 140 million views on Facebook) and Payne was suddenly appearing everywhere.

The same holds true for Pokemon Go. When I first heard about it on the news, I figured it was some young person thing that had been around for a while until it finally hit the public and then media radar. No, the online video game app had only been out for a week and was already being played by tens of millions of people.

Accordingly, the premise of the dramatic thriller "Nerve" doesn't seem so far-fetched. In it, Emma Roberts ("Aquamarine," "Nancy Drew") plays a high school senior who doesn't even come close to standing out in a crowd -- unlike her more boisterous friend (Emily Meade) -- and thus doesn't have the courage to let her football team classmate (Brian Marc) know that she's attracted to him.

Sydney tells Vee the latter should get out and live a little and after an embarrassing incident, the latter decides to join the online game sensation Nerve. In it, so-called "watchers" come up with dares for the players to complete within a set interval and for a set amount of money. The bigger the dare, the more cash one could earn. Why this isn't reality yet confounds me, but if this film -- directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman from Jessica Sharzer's adaptation of Jeanne Ryan's 2012 book -- catches on, don't be surprised if we're suddenly confronted with new Internet darlings.

The plot really kicks in when Vee, alongside her platonic friend Tommy (Miles Heizer), takes on her first dare -- to make out with a complete stranger -- and chooses a young man (Dave Franco) who she spots in a diner. She surprises herself by completing that and, fueled by the rush of suddenly acting impulsively and with gumption, decides to continue in the game where her followers grow alongside the increasingly risky dares.

For a while that's entertaining to watch as the young woman comes out of her shell and has fun, not knowing what challenging and possibly embarrassing task might be at hand (as if running out of a swanky department store in nothing but her skivvies alongside the equally undressed Ian wasn't enough).

But as things progress, and after a somewhat nail-biting sequence of high-speed, blindfolded motorcycle driving is completed, they become less interesting, imaginative or creative. That's particularly true when the dark side of such matters eventually rears its head and leads to a not-particularly convincing or engaging final task and related finale.

The filmmakers also don't delve as deeply as they could and probably should have into the societal aspects of such sudden and easy fame, or the way in which crowd-sourcing can tear people down just as quickly as it built them up. There are a few related lines of dialogue here and there about that, but they only scratch the surface of some deeper and thought-provoking thematic elements.

In their place are attempts at ratcheting up the suspense and action (which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if coupled with those themes) that ultimately don't work as well as intended and actually take much of the wind out of this project's cinematic sails.

By the time the third act arrives, many a viewer might already be looking for the next new Internet celebrity or activity. Or going out and turning the game idea of this film into a more active than passive reality. Fun and interesting for a while before losing its appeal, "Nerve" ends up running out of that in the final act and thus rates as only a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 25, 2016 / Posted July 27, 2016

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