Today: June 13, 2024

RPG: Real Playing Game

A concept that does keep cropping up in science fiction is the concepts of some sort of tournament or game where the goal is to be the last one left alive. While the roots of this can be found in classic pulp adventures like The Most Dangerous Game, it’s in sci-fi that some of the most interesting variants can be found. There’s Battle Royale, the enormously popular Hunger Games series, The Running Man, and more. Now add to the block this production from Portugal that mixes in a trend of controlling real life player avatars (Gamer, Surrogates… erm, Avatar). Unfortunately, Real Playing Game offers nothing new to the table at all, and fails to bring anything else to the table either.

Multimillionaire Steve Battler (Rutger Hauer) is not long for this world, but has discovered there is an alternative to just waiting to die. RPG, a biotech outfit, is offering the chance to be truly young again, by downloading old minds into new, younger bodies. However, you can’t just buy back your youth. To keep it, you have to first go through a game. Only one of the ten players can keep their new self, and to earn that right, they are placed into a game pitting their new selves against each other, until only one remains…

First big issue: why this whole game set up? What’s really the point of making them fight to the death like this? If you were selling something like the opportunity to be forever young, but it was something fairly scarce, surely an auction would make more sense and earn you better cash than The Hunger Games. Actually, if it was like the Hunger Games, it would make more sense, as then there would be an audience tuning in. As it is, the whole thing is baffling. Who is really going to pay millions to be young again… for like an hour hanging around a butt-ugly urban ruin, in grimy poverty before someone murders you? That sounds like a holiday worth paying for…

This may sound like nitpicking the film, but it really gets to the heart of why there’s no real sense of drama. If the actual stakes and goals are so murky then it’s very hard for the audience to care about what’s going on. For example, it’s really unclear if dying in game means dying for real. Is it just that the character’s avatar is out of the game, or are they themselves properly dead. If it’s the latter, then again, who would pay to be part of that? (This is an especially egregious point given how varied in occupations the game-players are; surely a group of heads of business, politicians, humanitarians and such would be smarter than that? Actually, what’s a humanitarian even doing in a game based around murder/torture anyway?) It makes everyone look like utterly selfish and greedy gits you can’t really empathise with. If it’s the former, that the characters just wake up when “killed” (and some of the dialogue does suggest this), then where’s the drama in this at all. “Oh no, that person didn’t win, they just wasted some of their cash so they can’t afford yet another yacht, and now they have to be driven home by their underpaid chauffer! The humanity!” It’s made worse by a final twist to this story, which would effectively make the whole thing utterly pointless.

But hey, dumb story, there should be plenty more to look at, right? Wrong! As mentioned, it mostly takes place in a graffiti-ed over wasteland in Portugal, with the flashy future tech, apart from a few holograms, only turning up at the start and the very end. The direction and filming is completely flat and dull; how do you make a film with human hunting this dull to look at? The cast are pretty terrible, though they admittedly don’t get much to work with, and it’s clear that for most of them, English isn’t their first language. Rutger Hauer is the big draw, but he gets as much screen-time as the shiny futuristic stuff, i.e. barely any, phoning it in while he is there, presumably realising what he’s gotten into. There are some interesting ideas in the script, that should generate tension (like one part of the game’s rules regarding knowing who your victim really is), but none are used to the full effect.

RPG is just a waste of time. The premise is utterly broken, the story dull and pointless, and it’s no fun to look at. If you want to see a smart, low budget take on the old “human hunting/last man standing” theme, seek out instead a copy of The Human Race, a very clever little film with a cool premise, a lot of wit, and gob loads more style than this.

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