Sundance 2013: ‘Virtually Heroes’ is anything but your standard art house fare
Directed by G.J. Echternkamp
Screenplay by Matt Yamashita
Gamers like myself have had a long and storied history with the film industry. Movie adaptations of popular video games titles have often been met with derision from the gaming community, and with good reason. Starting with Super Mario Bros in ’93, Double Dragon (1994), and more recently the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises, Hollywood hasn’t exactly done right by the gaming industry. Luckily,Virtually Heroes, screening this year as part of the Midnight selection at Sundance, forgoes any specific source material, thereby skipping the middle man and moving right along to the B-movie.
Produced by genre luminary Roger Corman (the film also not so discretely borrows a good deal of stock footage from his films), Virtually Heroes offers tongue-in-cheek insight into the existential quandary that is the day-to-day of a video game hero. As vapid as the games it lampoons (namely first person shooters like Call of Duty), Virtually Heroes is anything but your standard art house fare.
The story centers around the exploits of the lovelorn Books (Robert Baker) and his gun happy, tea-bagging sidekick Nova (Brent Chase) as they shoot their way from one sight gag to another. The whole affair makes for sort of a Groundhog Day meets Apocalypse Now mash-up as the two dunces walk into ambush after ambush, are slaughtered, and deposited back at the beginning of the level. All this leaves Books the more circumspect of the pair to wonder if there truly is more to life than blasting away Vietcong and relentlessly chasing after his elusive lady love. It’s regarding the latter that forms much of the narrative of the film (what little there is…), because every time Books and the damsel in distress are about to consummate their love with a kiss, a nondescript bad guy swoops in to steal her away. In the end perhaps Nova sums it up best in response to Books as he asks, “What’s the point?! What’s the plot?!” to which Nova answers with the rallying cry, “USA! USA!”
So while Virtually Heroes may not be making a case for the Oscars, it does seem to have pegged its audience well, casting a wide net to include one-liners relating to everything from classic games like Centipede and Space Invaders, to newer titles such as Mortal Kombat and Guitar Hero. My guess is that VH will successful run on the genre festival circuit ahead of a longer life and a more permanent home on VOD and amongst drunken LAN parties everywhere.