Computer Chess (2013) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but likely R for language, drug content, and sexual situations
Running Time: 92 min.

Cast: Patrick Riester, Myles Paige, Gordon Kindlmann, Robin Schwartz, Gerald Peary, Wiley Wiggins, James Curry
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Screenplay: Andrew Bujalski

Review published March 13, 2014

Computer Chess is a mumblecore mockumentary (of sorts), set in the early 1980s at a budget hotel hosting a convention for programmers of computer chess programs to compete in a tournament against humans and other computer software programs. Problems result when the chess convention must share space with a New Age-y sex therapy convention that connects longtime couples through emotional therapy. Another development occurs when one of the programmers starts to think that his program changes its strategy depending on whether it thinks it is playing a human or computer opponent, and giving further hints that it may be far more advanced than ever dreamed possible.

Written and directed by Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation), the film gains the air of authenticity by using an actual old Sony AVC-3260 video camera and 1:33 format, black-&-white analog videotape in order to film its footage, as well as using archaic computers, peripherals, furniture, hairstyles and fashion in order to recreate the 1980s setting. Perhaps most of the accolades one might bestow upon Bujalski's film comes from getting the look and feel just right, and setting the table for the peculiar story to follow. However, what Bujalski doesn't do is make things feel as if they are really happening, as the multiple angles, the various cameras, and the straight narrative scenes constantly give away the gimmick that this is could be a true-life documentary.

The acting is hit and miss, with some of the actors embodying their parts with precision, while others look too self-conscious about being on screen to emote in a convincing way. Unfortunately, some of those latter types have sizeable roles.

It's a very limited appeal film that will likely find a cult audience among those who are computer chess aficionados, or are just quite nerdy and happy that a film spotlights things they find interesting. The vast majority of people out there who stumble into it blindly will probably just consider it a mostly boring experimental oddity that, despite a collection of brilliant abstract concepts and amusing characters, never gels.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo