Remember that scene in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats when Shannon Doherty rips Jason Lee for being a gamer and comic book reader with an extremely low libido? It feels like every film that attempts to capture the mood and passion of either subculture has either lived up to her criticism, or swung wildly in the opposite direction in a labored attempt to prove the point wrong. Noobz, a video game comedy from writer/director/star Blake Freeman, falls in the latter category with its overdone emphasis on male sexuality and masculinity, but it does pack enough laughs and gamer lingo to overcome many of its shortcomings.
Shockingly, it’s Jason Mewes who plays the straight-man here, and does it quite effectively as Andy, a Gears of War gamer with a crush on a female gamer(Zelda Williams) he hopes to meet at the national Cyber Bowl tournament. But first he has to get his team there, especially Cody(Freeman), a sad sack real estate agent who’d rather play games than do his job. When he gets fired for doing exactly that, his girlfriend splits, and Cody has to be convinced to tag along if only for the chance to make some serious cash. Cody’s acid tongue and negative attitude about..well, everything, turn out to be the biggest drag as it flies in the face of what is mostly a sophomoric buddy road trip comedy in the vein of Fanboys.
Along the way of they pick up the rest of the members of their crew. The script’s latent homophobia emerges in the Oliver(Matt Shively), who is repeatedly ridiculed for his over-the-top homosexuality and inability to come out of the closet. It gets pretty ugly at times, and this is when the film ventures into the area of just plain being unwatchable. But fortunately these scenes tend to be brief, and in general it’s typical friendly ribbing and slapstick humor. Online gamer anonymity is played up to hilarious results with the addition of Hollywood(Moises Arias), who has been passing himself off as Casper Van Dien during their matches. The Starship Troopers star actually turns up as a hyper-stylized version of himself, dating Hollywood’s much older mother(Lin Shaye) because she’s filthy rich.
While production values are noticeably low, Freeman scores major points by gaining the endorsement of Epic and Microsoft, allowing him to use actual Gears of War footage for the tournament matches.. It’s always distracting when a fake video game is used, almost always with the same old Pac-Man sound effects. With a runtime that hovers around 100 minutes, they could have spent more time on the actual game battles, which are quite good but woefully short. Their opponents are also poorly developed and little more than bland stereotypes, especially the African-American squad led surprisingly by recent indie fave Skylan Brooks.
Freeman has mustered up an impressive group of cameos, including Bill Bellamy, Rick Overton, and Mindy Sterling. John Gries of Napoleon Dynamite fame is mostly wasted in an unfunny subplot as an aging coin-op gamer who seeks to reclaim his Frogger championship. Certainly, the rather bleak outlook this film takes on those aging games and those who play them is a far cry from the reverential treatment they receive in The King of Kong. Mewes is the real stand out here, and while he’s still employing many of the same goofy antics that have made his career, it’s refreshing to see him playing more of a normal soul. He’s the guy who keeps the team going, and by a few decibels turns down the volume on many of his signature gags. It’s a slightly more mature turn for him, and one that hopefully will carry over into future projects.
Noobz isn’t the gamer movie to define the genre or best exemplify the culture, but for the most hardcore it’s worth plunking down a few quarters for.