Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 26, 2016 5:18 pm 
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Runaround game

Adam Randall's Level Up is just an entertainment, but it can while away some time with gutsy, kinetic briskness. It's a modest but scrappy debut feature about an out-of-work guy who gets beaten up by men with ski masks who strap a mysterious box to his chest, and run off with his girlfriend, Anna (Leila Mimmack). Later a daughter is also said to be involved. He spends most of the rest of the brief run-time running around London over a 24-hour period trying to carry out tasks assigned to him via a series of found smart phones to gain release for, or save the life of, his girlfriend and end the runaround. Eventually like the characters in the more elaborate and ambitious (and higher-budget) current Nerve he turns out to be used as part of an online game where people are betting on him. The plot line of the film, co-scripted by Randall with Gary Young from an idea from co-producer Andrew Orr, has been called "Run Lola Run meets Taken."

But rather than consciously carrying out a series of dares as in Nerve, young Matt (Josh Bowman, lately of the show "Revenge") thinks he is trying to do what he's ordered to do, but often fails. The value of the ride depends on Bowman's energy and the rough exotic locations. At a ravaged but once elegant pad decorated with surreal paintings a babe orders him to have sex with her (he can't bring himself to). Matt goes to a Chinatown Karaoke game club, a soulless estate where drugs are sold, and so on. Things don't really get good till Matt starts thinking it's all just a game and then discovers it may not be a game at all. But just then he gains access to a computerized rehash of what he's been living through.

Level up is only as good as its exotic or grotty London locations, and it does manage to show us scenes well away from the usual tourist spots. Much of it happens in grim, industrial places partially under construction: London is very much a work in progress these days. Locations include Camden, Soho, Chinatown and Stratford. The cast also includes Neil Maskell (of Ben Wheatley's Kill List). The fast-paced camera is in the charge of dp Ben Boulter. Former rugby player Bowman brings a strong physicality to the role of Matt.

Level Up, 84 mins., opens in US theaters 26 Aug. 2016 (in NYC, at Cinema Village). VOD nationwide 26 Sept.

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