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Movie Review: Gamers

Painting of players of a role playing game

I’ve never understood the appeal of role-playing games like “Dungeons & Dragons.” That may be because I’m primarily a visual person. My two big passions in life (after my wife) are two forms of visual storytelling: Movies and comic books. So I don’t get the concept of sitting around pretending you’re walking around a dungeon fighting monsters. If I want that kind of experience I’ll just go play a video game.

And that’s the most shocking thing about Christopher Folino‘s debut feature, Gamers, finding out that there are people out there who still play role-playing games (RPGs). I thought the whole “Dungeons & Dragons” phenomenon fizzled out after that crappy Tom Hanks TV-movie Mazes and Monsters in 1982. I further thought that people into those kinds of things just played video games like Halo and WarCraft today. But I was completely wrong.

Gamers is a mockumentary about four lifelong friends and one wannabe who, as a group, attempt to set the record for playing the most hours of the fantasy role-playing game “Demons, Nymphs and Dragons.” While making fun of RPG nerds is like shooting fish in a barrel, Folino keeps things fresh and interesting by rarely ever showing the quintet playing their favorite game. The majority of the film is about the prepartion for the world-record breaking session, not the actual session itself.

Folino knows that just watching a bunch of dorks pretend to play a game would get boring real quick, so he keeps the film away from the gaming table as much as possible and works in some great visual gags. He also does a fairly good job with making the main five characters seem like real people rather than caricatures. The only exception is Reese, the stereotypical uber-geek who only seems to exist in movies and not real life.

While the other four leads are suitably interesting and complex to carry our interest through the film, Gamers does suffer a little bit by not having a strong central character. The focus of the movie is ostensibly the gamer Gordon, a Public Access TV producer who lives at home with his parents — a couple of swingers played with great gusto by John Heard and Beverly D’Angelo. A vague plot is introduced around halfway into the film concerning Gordon hooking up with an old high school (almost) flame and his growing awareness about the pathetic-ness of his and his friends’ lives.

But this isn’t a movie really about the story, it’s about the jokes. Folino keeps them good-natured and avoids any mean-spirited attacks against his game players. Some of the running gags get a little strained, such as a recurring “pagan baby” and Paul’s inability to curse. But for the most part they succeed even when they’re outlandishly unbelievable, like Kevin’s “imperial wizard” costume that eventually ties in very cleverly with a radio trivia contest gag. I also really liked Kevin’s personalized songs for children and found myself singing the chorus to “Wake Up, Dick” for the rest of the day.

Folino also gets good mileage out of his celebrity guest stars. The aforemented Heard and D’Angelo appear in a couple of terrific scenes, while Kelly LeBrock really plays up her sexpot image in a great flashback and William Katt appears as Reese’s boss in an aging hippie outfit that renders the actor completely unrecognizable. (I knew Katt was in the film, but I didn’t know which character he played until reading the end credits.)

Gamers is an amiable, likable — and funny — film that doesn’t demand the audience to be into gaming to enjoy.