Reviews

Movie reviews: Nerve gets preachy on the ills of social media, Line Walker chokes on plot twists

Nerve overplays the wildness of the Web, while Line Walker veers into a man-of-mystery parody

Like a Letters To The Editor page come to life, Nerve(PG13, 97 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2/5 stars) wags a finger at young people lured down the rabbit hole of online fame. But this movie springs not from the mind of a 65-year-old retiree with an e-mail account, but from young adult novelist Jeanne Ryan's book of the same title, published in 2012. 

So it's puzzling that this work has the tone  of a tut-tutting, government ministry- or church group-funded public service announcement, when it is meant to be primarily a piece of entertainment. 

Venus (Emma Roberts) is a level-headed high-school student who is roped into an online game called Nerve, in which contestants take on ever riskier dares to win crowdfunded cash.

Vee is a little tired of being the "good" girl and taunts by her wilder friend Sydney (Emily Meade) trigger her sudden participation.

Emma Roberts and Dave Franco take on dares in online game Nerve (above), while Charmaine Sheh and Francis Ng play cops in Line Walker.
Emma Roberts and Dave Franco take on dares in online game Nerve (above), while Charmaine Sheh and Francis Ng play cops in Line Walker. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

She meets a mysterious fellow player Ian (Dave Franco) and together they face a malign force emanating from the game itself.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the young adult template and this movie has the usual young adult set-up - young woman battles self-doubt, finds hunky frenemy, accepts herself, discovers unique talent, fights evil and wins acclaim. 

The problem is the lifelessness of the presentation - a problem of low-budget works, such as this film, that call for large amounts of lateral thinking - something that escaped co-helmers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Paranormal Activity 3 and 4, 2011 and 2012). The exposition-heavy dialogue is as flatly on-the-nose as a daytime soap, as are the visuals. 

Franco and Roberts are passable actors, dragged down further by the film's muddled mix of tones, ranging from grim realism to flirty romance to full-blown nutjob conspiracy thriller. It cannot decide if it wants to be like television's Mr Robot or a drama about high-school insecurities. 

Thrillers based on the idea that hobgoblins live beneath the surface of virtual worlds are a tough sell because, by now, most of us are so marinated in the Internet that our noses are keenly attuned to exaggeration, especially the smell of tabloid fear-mongering. 

Nerve hinges its entire premise on the idea of a crowdsourced game with life-threatening outcomes for its participants. The Web may be wild, but it's not that wild.

From Hong Kong comes a straightforward blast of Canto-cool. In Line Walker (PG13, 105 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars), the male leads walk, talk, drive, eat noodles and slurp energy drinks with cool oozing from every well-moisturised pore. 

Emma Roberts and Dave Franco take on dares in online game Nerve (above), while Charmaine Sheh and Francis Ng play cops in Line Walker (below).
Emma Roberts and Dave Franco take on dares in online game Nerve, while Charmaine Sheh and Francis Ng play cops in Line Walker (above). PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

This crime thriller tries so hard to make its male leads look so urbane and unruffled that it veers into a parody of the man-of-mystery trope. The two in question are smooth criminals, Master (Louis Koo, always the colour of rich mahogany) and Lam (Nick Cheung), one of whom may be a mole for the police.

It is the job of undercover cop Ding (Charmaine Sheh), a ditzy female, to find out which, because records have been destroyed.

She reports to the straight arrow Q (Francis Ng), whose surveillance network puts him one step ahead of the duo.

Master and Lam cross over to Brazil for a drug deal, which goes wrong and puts them on a collision course with another major triad figure. The plot extends the hugely successful TVB series first aired in 2014.

Ding (Sheh, one of two players crossing from the series to this film), the protagonist in the television show as some synopses suggest, seems to have been demoted to a caricature in the movie. She pops up sporadically to offer jokes about her sex appeal, or lack thereof, and to be a damsel in distress. 

The plot is heavy on twists, Mexican stand-offs and energy-drink sipping (the product placement is not subtle). By the fifth plot twist, it becomes hard to care, because the story has become a throwaway element, secondary to gunplay and ensuring that the two male stars have great hair.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Struggling with nerves'. Print Edition | Subscribe