Archive for March 21, 2006


March 21, 2006

I dabbled in Dungeons & Dragons in my teens, though it never quite took. I would lose patience and do dumb, suicidal things with my character just so I could get out of the game early, go home and watch a horror movie or something. But I’ve known guys like the guys in Gamers. They’re real and they’re scary.

After a string of back-handed odes to geekdom in the last decade or so — Free Enterprise, Trekkies, Comic Book Villains, Evan Dorkin’s The Eltingville Club — about the only strain of nerditude left untapped was role-playing games. Written and directed by Christopher Folino, Gamers strikes a mockumentary pose; like Christopher Guest’s masterpieces of the form, the film examines a small, weird subculture and the weirdos who put it above all else in life.

Gamers concerns itself with a close-knit group of four RPGers — aided by a less experienced fifth at times — who’ve been playing “DND” (Demons, Nymphs and Dragons) every weekend for 23 years. They’re six gameplay hours away from breaking the longevity record. A camera crew follows them, individually and as a group, as they prepare for their moment of glory. In a couple of spots, the mockumentary conceit doesn’t quite gel — in the prom flashback, for instance, the camera lapses into staged “omniscient” mode. Maybe it’s intentional, but it kind of breaks the reality. (Maintaining a mockumentary style in which there’s nothing on the screen that couldn’t be reasonably caught by a documentary camera crew is harder than it looks. Christopher Guest does it effortlessly; a lot of other mockumentaries don’t.) But for the most part Folino keeps it real, and funny.

Folino has himself an impeccable cast of up-and-coming comedians and improv artists. The scene-stealer is Dave Hanson as Reese, the infantile and deeply strange player who creates hot female characters, names them after ’70s babes, and gets way too attached to them. Hanson reminded me of Chris Elliott at his shit-eating funniest on Letterman. Then there’s Kevin Kirkpatrick as Gordon, who works the camera at the local cable-access station and can’t resist throwing inept avant-garde zooms and spins into coverage of town meetings. Kevin Sherwood is Kevin, the “Dungeon Lord” with an unfortunate sense of wizard fashion and a gig performing personalized kiddie songs. Scott Alan Rinker is Paul, who’s been documenting the DND journey since its inception and has sworn never to swear. Joe Nieves is Fernando, the movie’s Pedro, who suspects his hot girlfriend of getting knocked up by a gay Jesus.

If there’s any justice, Gamers will function as a you-saw-them-here-first intro to a lot of fresh talent. It also goes back to the ’80s and brings back various icons from the era: John Heard as Gordon’s veterinarian dad and Beverly D’Angelo as his wife; Kelly LeBrock as the resident MILF; and William Katt as a former gamer who counsels Reese (“Find a game you don’t die in; you can suck, but the suck’s on you”).

Gamers has an appealingly twisted sense of humor, and for every punch that doesn’t land (I could’ve done without the horse-jizz gag) there are several that hit, like the quilt of shame and the running David Lynch joke with a killer payoff. You don’t actually need to have navigated a dungeon or fondled a 20-sided to enjoy the movie, though I’m sure it helps; the basic throughline — an easily definable goal for the characters, however pathetic — will carry newcomers along. And any movie that takes mean passing shots at Ren Faire dweebs has a place of honor at my table.

It may be, too, that the more you identify with these guys, the more your laughter may be tempered with “Ouch.” The movie knows its milieu well enough to capture the clutter, the fetishistic Scorpions posters on the walls. Substitute the antisocial obsession of your choice and you’ve got a movie about you and your friends. Gamers captures the need to disappear into fantasy and the bonding among man-children who need each other to sustain the fantasy. If that makes it sound too cerebral, it also has dick jokes.