Gamebox 1.0 (2004), Dir. David Hillenbrand.

Hill & Brand Entertainment

Starring: Nate Richert, Danielle Fishel, Patrick Kilpatrick

Reviewed by Simon Mahony

Winner of the 'Best Visual Effects Award' and 'Best Screenplay Award'—it says on the box: Internacional de Cine Fantastico y de Terror de Estepona. Well, being a regular visitor to Estepona (one of my favourite Andalucian haunts) for the last ten years or so, I never knew they had a film festival so maybe this film will tell me something of the festival's status rather than the other way round. Eighty three minutes and I would find out.

Charlie, the geeky and socially withdrawn video game tester haunted by his lost love gets a surprise delivery by an anonymous unmanned and unmarked delivery van: a new immersive game for beta testing. "If you wish to play, put on the headset" says the accompanying note. Well there's a challenge. Re-named "Chuck" and looking considerably less geeky, Charlie finds himself in the macho word of Crime Spree where anything goes. Taking orders from the mob boss and stealing cars and motorcycles, Charlie tries to fulfil his mission and coming across a cyber representation of his dead girl friend things look good until *bang!*—he gets shot and the pain is real. How can this be happening and how can he survive in the game you cannot quit?

With a Philip Marlow movie voice-over and cheesy action movie soundtrack Charlie is confronted with scenes that allude to reality but hold the constant threat of death. Die and you lose a (real) life. Trying to escape to the real world he finds that he is dragged back to the game and his mission as it invades his real life. But what is his mission and how can he win?

The result is surprisingly entertaining in a non-challenging way – simple pulp. The fantasy world looks like a fantasy-game world and we (unlike the hero) have no difficulty telling which one we are in. Particularly interesting is the fact that the geeky-looking hero looks and turns out to be kind of cool in the fantasy of the game. It leaves you wondering how the real Charlie ever got such a cute girl, although in the fantasy world we can see that it works. Love prevails; the hero gets the girl and revenge on the bad guy. An additional bonus is the geek gets rehabilitated and ends up being cool (in real life); it's surprising the difference combing your hair and losing your glasses makes, as Clark Kent knows too well. The screenplay is simple and effective and the visual effects are good for the time it was made (2004). In the fantasy sequences (which is most of the film), the action looks like video game-play with all its failings, and so achieves its apparent aim. Whether it's award-winning, well, that depends on the competition. The DVD also has many additional features: Making of Gamebox 1.0, Bloopers/Gag Reel, Commentary, Deleted/Extended scenes (with Optional Commentary)... but eighty three minutes was enough.

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