Directed by Adam Randall
Released August 26, 2016
Films that define themselves only as thrillers expressly have just one intent: to enthrall. These aren’t the movies that double as dramas or include undead elements that could recategorize them as horror. These are the blockbusters that start the clock when the opening credits roll and then don’t let up until the hero hopefully saves the day and then relaxes until whatever post-film future hassles await him or her. The new British film “Level Up” isn’t hoping to be a modern-day one-person “Die Hard” or “Speed” - the aim here is just to provide nonstop action and little substance.
John McClane was ready to deal with a hostage situation, even on Christmas, because he was a tough New York cop. Matt (Josh Bowman) is not. He spends most of his time on his couch playing video games, rarely rising to the occasion and making something of the life that he shares with his far more successful girlfriend Anna (Leila Mimmack). Only a group of masked thugs literally breaking his door down and strapping a bomb to him can motivate him to get up off the couch and try to accomplish something, even if that something is doing a number of deplorable things to save the woman he loves who doesn’t always feel appreciated.
Though its scenarios and scenes change quickly, “Level Up” isn’t a terribly fast-paced film. Clocking in at just eighty-four minutes, this film instead emphasizes moments in which things explode and then spends at least two as long after finding its protagonist in a state of recuperation. Its title couldn’t be any more accurate - this all plays out as if Matt is trapped inside a video game. Each time he defies his instructions or does something unexpected, he has the opportunity to start again and make a new choice as the next challenge or threat presents itself.
The possibilities for creative filmmaking here were endless, and if this had actually mirrored a video game in its execution, it could have been pretty cool. There are definitely weird moments and strange things afoot, but it doesn’t have the resounding effect it could if it was programmed the way that Matt’s life was already playing out from his comfortable seat on the couch. Instead, it’s a generally unambitious and relatively unpleasant race to the end of a film that doesn’t bother to get to know its characters, assuming that someone being taken as a bargaining chip is reason enough to save them. Of course that’s how most would react, but even a little bit of substance in this mindless thriller might have been nice.