Max Reload and the Nether Blasters
2020, NR, 100 min. Directed by Scott Conditt, Jeremy Tremp. Starring Tom Plumley, Hassie Harrison, Joey Morgan, Lukas Gage, Greg Grunberg, Lin Shaye, Joseph D. Reitman.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., July 24, 2020
Remember 2005, when Leeroy Jenkins went viral for screaming his own name, completely botching a World of Warcraft party's plan and earning 1337 meme status by his egregious self-pwn? Then you're probably the target audience for gaming comedy Max Reload and the Nether Blasters, which throws itself with glee right at the audience with a direct reference. Max (Plumley) goes full Leeeeeeeeroy Jenkins when he screws up a raid with his best friends Liz (Harrison) and Reggie (Morgan), which is pretty typical for him. He's the arrogant outsider nerd with the obvious love interest and chubby best friend - the classic set-up for him to get hold of a magical video game that tears open the wall between the digital and everyday dimensions. Cue demons, possessions, insider gaming gags, a few laughs, and a vintage, undemanding lesson about teamwork.
Conditt and Tremp have basically added extra levels on to their 2018 short "Show No Mercy" for a film that sits somewhere between the cod-retro vibe of Canada's Astron-6 crew and the broad but big-hearted comedy of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil. They undoubtedly know gaming, having created programming crunch doc Game Jam the Movie, so their jokes are riddled with enough deep cut knowledge that it doesn't crash. (ColecoVision reference for the win!) However, recognition doesn't always equal big laughs. Most of those come from the performances, especially Harrison (who never lets Liz become a stereotyped gamer girl cliche), JJ Abrams' regular Grunberg as game-developer-turned-demon-hunter Eugene Wylder, and a delightful cameo by Shaye as Eugene's doting, dotty mother.
Max Reload isn't for everyone, but it's not trying to be. It's a pizza-and-soda Saturday night gamer film for serious gamers - not the kind that just grind through bug releases, but can name a developer other than Hideo Kojima. Slight, bright, better than Pixels (faint praise indeed), it's fun enough if you're a not-quite-old-school gamer who'll get a kick from cameos by nerd icons Kevin Smith, Jessica Conditt, Kobra Kai's Martin Kove, and Wil Wheaton being let loose by Conditt and Tremp (sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst). Some of the cultural references feel a little dated but if you can tell John Romero from Sid Meier, remember when GTA was top-down, and brought your first gaming shirts from Suncoast Motion Picture Company, you'll definitely get some giggles out of it (basically add a star to our rating for every time you completed a speed run in Half-Life). So If you've worn out your DVD of Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (or even know who the Angry Video Game Nerd is), it'll be a distraction but no Triple A release.