Gamebox 1.0 (2004) / Fantasy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some drug content
Running Time: 83 min.

Cast: Nate Richert, Danielle Fishel, Patrick Kirkpatrick, Patrick Cavanaugh, Robert Tena, Patrick Renna, DeVaughn Nixon, Mariana Klaveno
Director: David Hillenbrand, Scott Hillenbrand
Screenplay: Patrick Casey, Worm Miller
Review published April 13, 2007

Nate Richert ("Sabrina the Teenage Witch", Demon Island) stars as Charlie, a video game tester suffering from depression due to the needless death of his girlfriend, Kate (Fishel, "Boy Meets World"), at the hands of a drugged-out cop (Kilpatrick, Minority Report). One day, Charlie receives a package in the mail containing a mysterious new game system for him to try, a "virtual reality" console that makes him the star of three separate games (the "Grand Theft Auto"-like Crime Spree, the "Resident Evil"-ish Zombie World, and the "Halo"-esque Alien Planet). Using pictures taken of his friends, he is able to have some familiarity for the characters in the game, and the villain is none other than the man who killed his girlfriend, who just so happens to also become a character in the game. After the game sucks him in, it is reluctant to let him back out, and soon, Charlie is trapped in a do-or-die dilemma whereby he must finish the game without dying or die in real life.

Gamebox 1.0 is nothing new in the world of films, as anyone who has seen Disney's Tron from the early 1980s will know pretty much how this mini-genre of virtual reality thrillers will proceed. The protagonist is going to have to fight for his life, not only virtually, but also in reality, as he stumbles through a fictitious world trying to get clues and gain the upper hand to beat the malicious machine at its own game. Recently, this premise was used in the unspectacular genre film, Stay Alive, but Gamebox, to its credit, pre-dates that film, so rip-off claims are unwarranted, at least in that case. Still, films like Avalon and eXistenZ have already mined this field to better success, leaving GameBox seeming a bit antiquated in terms of themes and potentially interesting ideas.

Still, even for a derivative, low-budget film, it's not half bad. It has passable special effects (computer graphics injected through green-screening, sort of like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow if done at a hundredth of the budget), an adequate cast of young actors, and it is more knowledgeable about the world of the video game beta testers than most that have tread the same territory. The filmmakers also understand how video games generally work, with heart icons that give health, an intuitive gun and ammo system, and the requisite voice-over narration that permeates most first-person shooter games today. It does follow predictable paths, but there are a few small surprises along the way, and while it doesn't exactly hold you in the grip of tension during the film's many action sequences, it tells an interesting story of one young man's quest to overcome his grief and move on with his life, if he can prevail in the game to carry it through.

For the most part, Gamebox 1.0 is moderately-entertaining, cheesy sci-fi, never delving particularly deep, and not striving for profundity on any significant level. There is no explanation as to the mysterious console's origins or why Charlie has been chosen to receive it, so it feels more like a prolonged episode of "The Outer Limits" than a full-fledged original production, complete with a superfluous ironic twist at the end. I do feel that the audience for which this film is intended is predominantly cyber-geeks and video game fanatics who also enjoy schlocky b-movies, so if that doesn't sound like you, I'd say you probably won't find it to your liking. It has an underlying message warning of the dangers of using video games as an excuse to escape the real world, but you won't need to fear Gamebox; gamers won't take it seriously enough to get too sucked in, while non-gamers will probably think it just sucks. 

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo