Justin C., here…
Have you ever watched a performance and found the actor’s appearance so far out of prior context that all you can do is halt the movie and consult IMDB in order to determine exactly where you’ve seen this individual before? This was my situation with the thriller LEVEL UP.
After checking the bio for Josh Bowman, the movie’s lead, I determined that it was more than just the beard making him unrecognizable. It was also the return to his native British accent, when I was more familiar seeing him as a clean-shaven American aristocrat on the ABC series, Revenge.
In LEVEL UP, he’s playing a slightly shlubby Brit named Matt who can’t quite determine what he wants to do with his life beyond playing video games and having beers with a friend. Somehow, he still has the love of a good woman and when said woman is kidnapped, he’s forced to get off the couch when the kidnappers instruct him to deliver a package to guarantee her safe return.
Danger lurks around every corner, and nothing is quite as it seems. How much of the world Matt’s been thrown into is even real? Who knows? Who cares?
It’s a premise tried and true, the idea that an unknown evil entity directs an unwitting pawn into risky situations. There are shades of David Fincher’s The Game, as well as Ron Howard’s Ransom, though Level Up never quite seems to rise to the same “level,” if you will. The movie’s title would imply a parallel between Matt’s penchant for video games (first-person shooters, to be precise) and the real world, but the point is never really driven home.
The film’s biggest flaw is that we’re focused on a single character for much of it, but that character never becomes three-dimensional. More often than not, Matt is simply a prop for taking punishment from random attackers. After a while, you’ll begin to wonder how many shots to the head one person can take and still continue to function properly.
In the end, any successful film of this nature would rely on one of two different paths. There’s either a twist at the end big enough to make everything that preceded it worthwhile, or the end can remain nebulous because the journey was so much fun that the finish hardly matters. Unfortunately, Level Up chooses something in between, but the final reveal isn’t enough to make up for all the standard fare that’s come before.