Don’t get us wrong — from the moment we laid eyes on “Noobz,” a sinking feeling set in. The final product could prove generic at best or a travesty at worst, one of those interminable films that’s just bad. Still, a tiny pocket of hope lingered, a miniscule possibility that this film could in some way capture the passion, obsession and community that “Indie Game: The Movie” highlighted to great effect. “Noobz” snuffs out that hope early on, despite co-writer, director, and co-star Blake Freeman‘s repeat attempts to capture base gamer culture. This is due in part to the script, co-written by Freeman and Marvin Wilson, which briefly touches on the aimless, low-ambition lives of four gamers and then spirals off into the done-to-death road-trip-to-the-big-money-tournament plot. Freeman also damages his own production by playing one of the characters — Cody, a cocky, careless pit of bottomless pessimism who elicits the least sympathy since Seth Rogen‘s acidic Britt Reid dragged down Michel Gondry‘s ‘The Green Hornet.’
When Cody (Freeman) loses his job and his girlfriend, teammate Andy (Jason Mewes, surprisingly the best thing about the film) drags the reluctant “Gears Of War” pro out of his house and takes him to a tournament that could provide much needed financial reprieve. They are joined by Oliver (Matt Shively), who Cody and Andy endlessly berate for the former’s inability to acknowledge his cartoonish homosexuality. On the way, they pick up Hollywood (Moises Arias), whose mom is seeing none other than bug-killer Caspar van Dien, slumming with ease in an extended cameo as a washed-up, closeted version of himself. The film’s obsession with male sexuality is no surprise, but when van Dien, suspecting Oliver is a stalker, delivers the line “I got a standing restraining order against your kind,” it blurs the line between tasteless and hateful.
A subplot sees Jon Gries of “Napoleon Dynamite” fame attempt to reclaim his coin-op throne as champion of “Frogger.” Gries’ Greg Lipstein is thematic kin to his deluded Uncle Rico, both men being never-weres lost in the fantasy glory days. Gries does what he can but his subplot is largely unecessary, since it pokes fun at the old-timey (not to mention underfunded) nature of coin-op tournaments but never properly develops Greg to make his inevitable realization and change of priorities worth your viewing time. Zelda Williams, daughter of Robin, also pops up as a love interest for Mewes and is equally underdeveloped, yet another tough girl gamer wary of the boys club.
While we get several montages of team deathmatches and players spouting dialogue mid-combat, it all feels so much like actors playing a type — the dialogue lands with a thud and the teams (outside of the Freeman-led foursome) are little more simplistic stereotypes. For a film that wants to say the gaming community takes in all kinds, “Noobz” is certainly relunctant to acknowledge genuine diversity, not to mention steeped in gay panic and unsubtle misogyny. It is also ambitious beyond what it’s budget seems to allow, and features some truly garish lighting. Indie films frequently get the pass for technical setbacks but here it draws attention to itself to the point where you can’t not mention it.
What “Noobz” has going for it, against all odds, is Jason Mewes, who pulls the film up time and time again as Andy, the straight man who keeps the team together and talks Cody back into the game. Mewes brings his signature antics to the role but tones them down and seemingly acknowledges that despite his enduring (though certainly worn) looks, he is pushing 40. It’s not a complex performance but for fans of Jay this should be a bit of a revelation, a confident and even melancholy turn that doesn’t overwhelm with juvenile horsing around but shows a more mature, functioning version of Mewes’ imbecilic prankster. Perhaps we’re giving it too much credit but when you see a lifebelt in a sea of sharks, you grab for it and hold on tight.
It’s fair to say “Noobz” misses what it’s aiming for — a breezy, raunchy comedy steeped in a unique lingo and bolstered by a flashy endorsement deal — by a long shot. If not for Mewes and the occasional laugh, the film would be a complete letdown. Instead, it’s a passable bottom-of-the-barrel comedy that paints an unfriendly portrait of many professional gamers as, well, pricks. [C-]