Movie Review: ‘Nerve’ is the next campy, cult classic starring Emma Roberts
The knee-jerk reaction to something like “Nerve” is pure, white-hot hate. A cyber thriller for millennials brought to you by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost – the very same monsters who infected America with a smug virus called Nev Schulman – should be met with the same level of mindless rage that’s reserved for movies in which Kristen Wiig is bustin’ ghosts, zingin’ ghouls and rockin’ some fancy bangs.
But like 2016’s “Ghostbusters,” all your anger and Twitter-based death threats toward this movie are misplaced. “Nerve” is good. Sure it’s a bit too slick and far more finger-waggy than it needs to be, but it’s an entertaining chunk of insta-kitsch that seems to imply every generation needs a version of “Hackers” to call their own.
Before we go any further, the title comes from the smartphone game the characters play in the film. Critics have drawn awkward and very forced parallels between Nerve and “Pokemon Go.” But, apart from the very superficial connection that both games share in ushering shut-ins out of the house and into the real world, the games don’t have that much in common. Nerve is an immersive truth or dare-style game in which “watchers” goad sexy teens in their mid-20s – or “players” – to drive motorcycles while blindfolded, dangle perilously off of a construction crane and pretend to fart on strangers.
Nerve is nothing like “Pokemon Go.” But that doesn’t mean Nerve isn’t stupid. In fact, it’s very stupid. Emma Roberts’ character is named Venus Delmonico. That’s not a real name. That’s a pseudonym a porno actress would give herself if she wasn’t trying particularly hard. “Nerve” also tries to make us believe that Roberts would be an unpopular, shrinking violet desperately in need of motorcycle stunts in order to drag her out of her Plain-Jane-wallflower-shell. But, with that said, “Nerve” is a lot of fun.
Shamed into becoming a participant in the titular game by her unlikely best friend (Emily Meade), Roberts’ challenges are initially slight and mostly just involve trying on fancy dresses as one of the lesser Francos (James’ brother Dave) gawps on in amazement. But once she’s tricked into getting a tattoo by noted joke thief and current pariah, Josh Ostrovsky, the challenges morph into deadly, ladder based e-jaunts. But don’t worry, the cyber police are on their way in the form of a secret gang of ping-pong loving hackers. They’ll use their “bots” to “zip, zap, rap” Nerve out of existence, trap all of the cyber bullies in a “.gif” and hurl it into the farthest reaches of the “dark web.”
Shot through DP Michael Simmonds’ neon infused lens, “Nerve” has an unreal, alluring quality to it. Similar in some ways to Walter Hills’ “The Warriors,” “Nerve” is a hyper-real exploration into a fabricated sub-culture. Basically, the film looks good. Too good. With its attractive cast, New York City setting and flavor of the month soundtrack, “Nerve” frequently feels like an overlong iPhone commercial. But in spite of its hip, surface details, the message behind “Nerve” is decidedly old. The evils of social media and the fleeting nature of internet celebrity are pummeled into the audiences’ forehead with the blunt ignorance of an elderly relative who just found out about phishing scams. Nonetheless, “Nerve” is still an effective B-movie, a campy slice of cheese that will inevitably age into a future cult favorite.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Emma Roberts
Director: Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost
Weekender Rating: WWWV
Length: 96 minutes