The only convincing explanation for the existence of “Game Over, Man!” is that the brain trust behind Comedy Central’s “Workaholics” got really high on salvia one night and started to wonder what a remake of “Die Hard” might look like if it were written by Judd Apatow, directed by McG, and financed by whatever spare change they had in their pockets. How else to rationalize an action-comedy in which three burnout white dudes (suffering from some very severe bromantic tension) wind up going all “Pineapple Express” on the terrorists who raid the hotel where they work, take a handful of celebrity hostages, and amputate Daniel Stern’s dick? Stranger things have happened, especially on Netflix.
“Game Over, Man!” is exactly the kind of movie you would expect to get made when a massive streaming company grows so desperate for content they’ll green-light the first half-baked idea a trio of semi-famous TV stars pitches their way. Of course, that shrugging permissiveness cuts both ways.
On one hand, it allows the “Workaholics” team to bring their signature anything goes shamelessness to a bigger canvas, if not necessarily a bigger screen. In 2018, there’s simply no way anything this ridiculous could support a 2,000-screen theatrical release and all of the marketing costs that go along with it; a lot of comedies might be willing to cut off Daniel Stern’s penis in the first act, but precious few have the balls to bring it back as a weapon in the third. On the other hand, anything goes doesn’t mean that everything should, and so we’re left with a movie that’s much shaggier than anything co-producers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen have ever starred in themselves. And not just because Reggae sensation Shaggy shows up to play himself. “Workaholics” super-fans will be thrilled this exists, while everyone else will be thrilled that they’re only a few clicks away from watching “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” instead.
Scripted by co-star Anders Holm and directed by “Workaholics” mainstay Kyle Newacheck, our journey begins with three delinquent housekeepers at Hollywood’s chic 1Level hotel. There’s Darren the blissful druggie (Holm), Joel the introverted tech wizard (Blake Anderson), and Alexxx the manic sociopath who ruins everything (Adam DeVine). They call themselves “The Dew Crew,” because they drink Mountain Dew, and they’re a crew. Judging by the amusingly foul opening scene, these best buds spend most of their days peeling (very) used condoms off dirty floors while pitching each other on business concepts that would never survive on “Shark Tank.” Darren shoots down Alexxx’s idea for a sexy tutoring agency — paying adult women to strip for underachieving teens might get a little messy — but something called “Skintendo” seems to have some legs.
Of course, “Game Over, Man!” isn’t a reference to the NES, but rather a nod to Bill Paxton’s most immortal line from “Aliens.” This is a comedy conceived by and intended for a generation who grew up on 8-bit graphics and ’80s action classics, when all you needed to make a movie were a guy, some guns, and a group of vaguely foreign henchmen. And so it’s with a knowing wink that a blond madman named Conrad Drothers (Neal McDonough) storms the tower, kills the innocent security guard, and takes a bunch of hostages on the roof. Just in case you weren’t raised on this stuff, “Veep” star Sam Richardson shows up to play the bad guy’s security hacker, quipping “You didn’t bring me along because I look like the black nerd from ‘Die Hard,’ right?” Explaining the joke doesn’t make it any funnier.
The roof is littered with comedy stars and cultural oddities who must have owed some favors, everyone from Joel McHale to “Jackass” survivor Steve-O briefly showing up as themselves before dying in gruesome fashion (explosive collars are a big trope, these days). However, the terrorists’ main target is a tech billionaire called Bey (Utkarsh Ambudkar, milking every possible comedy point from his two big scenes), who offered to finance Skintendo just seconds before the bad guys barged in. And so it’s up to the Dew Crew to save the day, fighting the bad guys while sorting out their feelings for each other.
From there, “Game Over, Man!” becomes to “Workaholics” what “Keanu” was to “Key & Peele” — a sporadically funny riff on a formula that worked much better in small doses. You know it’s a Netflix joint, because it almost feels designed to be half-watched in the background; an overly loud piece of muzak. The movie is at its best when it leans into parody, taking the most familiar tropes from steroidal action classics and giving them a modern twist. Newacheck devises a number of fun ways for his three idiot heroes to dispatch of the villains, the good and gooey death scenes so obviously fake and over-the-top that they border on “Final Destination” territory.
The best gags are often folded right into the violence, and gayness is unsurprisingly often the butt of the joke. Sometimes that works out pretty well (e.g. the great scene where two henchmen openly share their tender feelings for each other). Other times, not so much. Every same-sex gag hinges on an undercurrent of total acceptance, but Holm’s script bends so far over backwards to satirize the notion of gay panic that it eventually starts making the same kind of jokes it’s trying to mock.
That’s par for the course in a comedy that’s always working just a little bit too hard for each laugh. It’s what the “Workaholics” do, filling every spare moment with two mediocre jokes instead of landing a single good one. Adam DeVine is like a one-man “Emoji Movie,” frantically displaying a thousand different faces like he’s running out of time. His shtick is what it is, and what it probably always will be (Jim Carrey’s slapstick + Vince Vaughn’s logorrhea ÷ Zack Galifianakis’ natural subversiveness), but he deserves all the credit in the world for swinging for the fences at this at-bat. One gag involving auto-erotic asphyxiation requires a Sacha Baron Cohen-level of doing it for the bit.
“Game Over, Man!” is nearly redeemed by a handful of scenes like that, moments — like the one involving a small dog in a fish tank — that would never have survived the studio process. Of course (as we saw with “Bright”), the downside to generating original content for Netflix is that there isn’t any oversight whatsoever; no one to point out how many of the jokes aren’t working, or tell the filmmakers that “Die Hard” is actually pretty funny in the first place. Of course, “Die Hard” isn’t on Netflix. “Aliens” isn’t either. Our loss is their gain.
“Game Over, Man!” begins streaming on Netflix on March 23.