Gamers take LA in Noobz

Crude and juvenile but also a story that might be useful for gamers to meditate on, Noobz, a comedy directed and co-written by Blake Freeman, follows a group of competitive gamers who travel to Los Angeles to compete for a $400,000 championship prize.

Noobz seems incredibly unsure of itself with regard to how it wants to approach the gamer demographic as an audience. On the one hand, the film includes its fair share of bonuses for people familiar with gamer culture, such as the eccentric supporting character Greg “Armagreggon” Lipstein, an ex-arcade game champion and a clear parody of Donkey Kong high-scorer Billy Mitchell, with perhaps just a dash of Ben Stiller’s personality thrown in.

On the other hand, the portrayal of many gamers in Noobz straddles (and repeatedly crouches on top of) the line between “offensively exaggerated stereotype” and “pointed, if brutal, critique.”

The main gamer characters are particularly difficult to like, as they are characterized as maladjusted misanthropes with misplaced priorities.

In the opening scenes of the film, middle-aged gamer Cody, played by Freeman, loses both his job and his wife because of his fixation on gaming and his inability to respond maturely to conflict. The gaming championship becomes his midlife quest for relevance, assisted by his best friend Andy, played by Jason Mewes, who is well within his comfort zone playing the perpetual man-child who works behind a counter. It’s a familiar buddy dynamic, with the constantly sour Cody resisting Andy’s attempts to cheer him up.

The other half of Cody and Andy’s gaming quartet consists of Oliver (played by Matt Shively), whose effeminate personality and over-the-top affectations of heterosexuality are mocked by his teammates and played for laughs and, “Hollywood,” (played by Moises Arias), an asthmatic whose ever-present oxygen tank and breathing mask receive a similar comedic treatment. Moviegoers with particularly sensitive sympathies for the LGBT community or the handicapped will probably find many of the jokes to be in poor taste, though the degree to which the script is being crude versus the characters playing true to macho gamer stereotypes isn’t always clear.

There are also two key subplots: Armagreggon’s self-centered quest to reclaim the Frogger championship and Andy’s courtship of Rickie, played by Zelda Williams, a former clan teammate and leader of a competing all-female gaming clan.

For fans of comedies in the same vein, Noobz does little to change the basic formula. The components of the story will feel color-by-number to many: a group of friends on a road trip, with cameos by non-A-list celebrities as parodies of themselves (in this case, Casper Van Dien, who receives top billing for roughly 10 minutes of screen time) and quirky misfits competing in a “sport” of questionable legitimacy. One might imagine that cinephiles watching the movie together will compete to name past films that use the same conventions.

With regard to the story, Noobz plays like an amalgam of half of the major comedy films of the past decade, but with somewhat less cohesion and more game product placement. The climax of the film feels rushed and lacks real tension, with the bulk of the story having shifted to the development of the characters. Female hardcore gamers in particular might find the film’s conclusion patronizing, though to the film’s credit, Rickie is probably the most well-adjusted and reasonable character in the entire movie, to the point where her relationship with Andy borders on a wish-fulfillment fantasy of “the perfect gamer girl.”

Some of the more notable points of the film are: The gas station rest stop where Cody finds a greater understanding of himself after being chewed out by a foul-mouthed pre-teen girl, the sincere (if cliched) montage of Andy psyching himself up in front of a mirror before his date and the genuinely entertaining gag reel over the credits.

Perhaps the only thing saving Noobz from being dismissed altogether as an insulting attempt to cash in on videogame-playing moviegoers is that Freeman’s attitude toward gamers seems to be one of self-deprecation rather than spite. The film’s introduction paints a picture of gamer versus non-gamer class warfare, a view that comes off as bitter but isn’t atypical among gamers. Most of the gamer characters are difficult to like, but they aren’t generally rewarded for their failings and the audience is expected less to root for them than to simply be entertained by them. At one point, when freshly unemployed Cody looks games store manager Andy dead in the eye and asks him, “How do you even function in society, man?” Freeman, as director, seems to be pointing to Cody as an example for gamers to avoid emulating.

Whether a gamer viewer chooses to take Noobz as an insult or an invitation to introspection is up to them. Noobz is not a particularly good film, but the gamers who most resemble its characters — the unwittingly non-social and down-on-life — will be the ones to most enjoy and benefit from seeing it.