Lionsgate just can’t seem to get enough of those YA novel adaptations. After the likes of The Hunger Games, Twilight and Divergent, along comes another. But this one strikes a different kind of nerve, which is why it is probably called, well, Nerve. It is actually a smart premise for a film targeted to the app-obsessed teen audience — basically this is Truth Or Dare for the new digital age. As I say in my video review above, this is a movie that rewards risk and divides kids between the players ,who take on the increasingly difficult challenges for cash, and the watchers, who are basically observers but get to dictate what those “dares” will be. Kids choose which side they want to be on when they sign up to play Nerve, a live-streaming 24-hour game that can make you rich, but only at a real risk as it turns out.
Vee (Emma Roberts), short for Venus Delmonico, is a sharp student whose main goal is to go to California Institute for the Arts, but one day completely out of character signs up for Nerve after being spurned by the popular jock on campus. With her friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) shooting it all with his iPhone, she acts out her first “dare,” which is to go up to a complete stranger in a restaurant and kiss him on the lips. Mission accomplished, except the guy turns out to be Ian (Dave Franco), who just happens to be there to accomplish his own “dare” which is singing from the table tops. This digital “meet cute” gimmick sparks a budding romance and Nervy partnership between the adventurous pair who take on other dares together including agreeing to race a motorcycle up to 60 MPH while blindfolded on busy New York streets. Now that’s responsible. They also raid an upscale department store where they flee clad only in their underwear, and Vee even tries to one-up best friend and troublemaker Syd (Emily Meade) by walking on a ladder perched high above the ground between two high-rise apartment buildings.
Eventually, though, Vee rises to the top of the game the whole thing begins to careen out of control, Ian reveals dark secrets about a tragic past incident, Tommy is perpetually jealous, and Vee’s friendship with Syd blows up. Typical teen problems, but played out in a dangerous arena where the hidden Internet throng demands more excitement at every turn like a bunch of bloodthirsty spectators at the Roman Colosseum.
On the surface, Nerve is moderately entertaining, except when you realize that, as incredible as this all seems, it actually is all very credible in an age where anything seems to go for a restless breed of youth and technology is fast making strides that make this kind of game seem possible — probably inevitable. Timing for the Lionsgate release tomorrow is perfect with near-daily headlines and warnings about the dangers of the obsession with Pokemon Go.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have been down this road before with Catfish, which also showcased inappropriate behavior online. They make a movie that never lets up, backed by loud tunes so there can be no quiet moments or time for reflection. It’s all very fast, very furious and pretty irresponsible for a PG-13 movie — some clueless viewers may try to emulate at home, especially those strong tech capabilities. As Vee’s mother (Juliette Lewis) says at one point, “I have never seen so many smart dumb kids.” All the actors do their best with this material from screenwriter Jessica Sharzer, who adapted Jeanne Ryan’s book, and actually teen-oriented movies from Rebel Without A Cause to now have always promoted the exciting sense of danger and the unknown to young minds. Unfortunately, Nerve fits that mold but only nominally details the consequences after filling those minds with all sorts of ideas.
Allison Shearmur and Anthony Katagas produced.
Do you plan to see Nerve? Let us know what you think.