TCS Daily

Reality Tivoed

By James Pinkerton - June 23, 2006 12:00 AM

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That appears to be Hollywood's philosophy toward video games. The latest effort at joining 'em is "Click," starring Adam Sandler; if imitation is the sincerest form of film-ery, then "Click" rates as an earnest attempt by Hollywood to woo its audience back from increasingly marketshare-grabbing games. Yet in doing so, the movie falls into some of the most clichéd traps of moviedom -- yes, that means you, Dr. Faustus and Mr. Scrooge. Once again, your respective chestnut-y stories have been summoned from re-run land to help out Hollywood.

Michael Newman (Sandler) is a stretched-to-the-limit yuppie architect, attempting to keep both family and career wrapped in his embrace. Speaking of embraceable, his wife Donna (the too-hot Kate Beckinsale: nobody looking at her would believe that she is a mother, except that she is in real life; let's hear it for Pilates). Pressed to find ways to get more done in less time, Michael finds himself slapstickily flummoxed by various clickers in his living room: Some turn on the TV, others control the garage door, others operate various toys -- audiences can readily predict the pratfalling jokes to come.

What Michael needs is a universal remote -- and we do mean universal. So one night he drives to a Bed, Bath and Beyond (get it?), and there he meets a creepy-cool inventor named Morty (the always creepy-cool Christopher Walken), who may also be the Angel of Death -- that's Morty as in "Mortality." So Michael gets his new clicker, and boy, does his life change. All of a sudden, he has the power to "mute" people, to "freeze frame" them, even to "fast forward" them. Yes, Michael has the sort of absolute power that we've always dreamed of, only it's been reimagined for the Tivo Generation. Showing the film's awareness of yet another tranche of new-style media, Michael asks, "Is this some sort of reality show?"

The now super-empowered Michael clicks his way to yuppie advancement, getting the better of his obnoxious boss (David Hasselhoff). But even as he gains wealth and power, he finds himself losing his soul. He grows alienated from his adorable kids (Joseph Castanon, Tatum McCann), as well as his wife. And what he does to his parents! Oy! The 'rents, played by Henry Winkler and Julie Kavner, put the comedic lock on Jewish suffering.

And suffering is critical to the stories that "Clicked" fuses together: Faust and Scrooge. In the Faust legends, the protagonist gains supernatural power and causes himself to suffer. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge character has no special powers, but causes others to suffer anyway. In Faust, the payoff for the audience comes when the title character realizes he has made a huge mistake -- but it's too late. In Scrooge, the payoff comes when the main man realizes the error of his cruel ways, and finds time to remedy it. In both legends, the pain of others helps to steer the audience's emotions, such that the audience is eager for the climactic moment when Faust and Scrooge meet their destiny.

And of course, that's exactly what happens; the film sets out to regain mindshare from the techno-hip mouse-clicking crowd, and yet there's no plan for any updating of familiar plotlines.

Thus we watch Michael make all mistakes of fast-trackery; slaving to the grind, he even loses his hardbodied wife to a romantic rival (Sean Astin, of "Lord of the Rings" renown, who is only 35 but seems comfortable playing middle-aged and pudgy).

So if the plot of "Clicked" is familiar, then the question is: how effective are Sandler & Co in updating this hoary material? Can they do better than previous what-iffy flicks that might be telescoped into "It's a Wonderful Life, Liar, Liar, Bruce Almighty"?

Here are three ways to answer these mysteries:

First, the film, which is rated PG-13, comes on a bit strong: There's some mild nastiness to children, as well as to adults, and more than a few fart- and small-penis jokes. How does that sound? Yet at the same time, the film's admittedly muddled message is pro-family values: Michael learns that regular hearth and home are what matter most. It's that pro-nuclear-family message, of course, that kids today are most tuned to react to, because it's what they are most likely to be missing in their non-clickable real lives.

Second, the movie's "breakout" stars are the folks who did the makeup and prosthetics. Given its neo-Scrooge plotline, there's a lot of time-shifting, from Michael Present to Michael Past to Michael Future, and then Michael More Distant Future. At each age, Sandler, and the other characters, are superbly unwrinkled or wrinkled. Hollywood can still work its visual morph-magic.

Third, however, is the problem that the demographic Hollywood is chasing has grown accustomed to wonders. The Lumiere Brothers started it all, and Walt Disney created more than a few wondrous spectacles, but now the techno-torch has been passed -- to video games.

Hollywood has been conscious of video, of course, for a long time. The underrated 1982 film "Tron" was an honorable effort, way ahead of its audience-time. In the two decades since, other films, including "Super Mario Brothers", "Mortal Kombat" and "Doom", have attempted to glom onto the gamer crowd. Even the "Fast and Furious" flicks, as reviewed here last week, bespeak to one of videogames' favorite topics -- death-defying car-racing.

So "Click" offers scenes in which Michael is presented with click-choices that look borrowed from the Mac OS X Dashboard. It's fun but, of course, familiar. And yet Michael's ability to click his way to different destinies reminds the audience of the big difference between movies and games: In movies, the script is ordained in advance by the writer; in games, the player does the ordaining, every time he plays.

Which is to say, there's a basic limitation of movies: They can only have one ending. Yes, storytellers can fake out the audience with false endings, but in the end, there are the words "The End."

The big problem Hollywood faces is that the nature of story-telling is linear: The actors get up, do their thing, and then sit down. There's nothing wrong with that, of course -- unless audiences decide that they prefer non-linear stories. As in video games.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's "Halo" series, for instance, can only be described as movie-like in its artistry. Indeed, the computer basis of such games has stimulated an explosion of fan-based computer-creativity, as buffs create their own art using the games as raw material. Needless to say, "Halo" is soon to be the proverbial "major motion picture," although one imagines that in two years, when the film comes out, the fan-base will have moved on, to completely interactive experiences, such as "World of Warcraft" and other Massive Multiplayer Online Games.

Yes, some share of the audience will always prefer to sit back and say, "Tell me a story." And so there might be an audience for "Click" -- especially if that audience likes a somewhat well-made rerun.

James Pinkerton is TCS Daily's media critic.


1 Comment

The Future of Video Entertainment
Within fifteen years, I anticipate that games (especially the multi-player-online variety) will come with video-realistic characters and scenery. Improving realism in gaming will increasingly threaten Hollywood profits. Hollywood will respond by cutting costs, expanding distribution channels and widening potential story line. This will be accomplished via digital movie making. That is, mix a story with digitally still-filmed scenery/characters and stir…think video-realistic animie.

Video-realistic games and movies will have expanded potential limited only by human imagination. Dare I think “holodeck” party for my great grandson’s 11th birthday in 2050?

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