Ready Player One

Ready Player One ★★

Oh where to start?

Casting & performances. Cute, young boy & girl leads—charisma-barren Sheridan and Cooke—have a severe lack of chemistry or on-screen magnetism. And Mendelsohn has twice now (ROGUE ONE being the other instance) given us an unnecessarily charmless, pouty-faced organizational baddy who’s hell-bent on seeing through on his organization's evil plans. And in READY PLAYER ONE’s most accidental 80s reference, Mark Rylance plays a Rain-Man Doc Brown character with Jeff Spicoli hair.  One of the worst supporting role performances to come to my mind lately. What the hell is he doing?

All the other performances in the film become washed away and easily forgotten because, in part, neither the characters nor actors' portrayals were very good. In fairness it’s hard to stand out when the visual departments are screaming their heads off.  Most all the characters and actors feel inconsequential under the weight and the blur of the all the moving CGI in the VR and Real-World set design.

READY PLAYER ONE suffers from the transitions between and the over-stimulated approach to production design that went into the film's two worlds.  Firstly, the online gameworld, the Oasis, and secondly, the 2045-visioned Junkyard Suburbia of Columbus, Ohio. If nothing else, READY PLAYER ONE is a marvel in team set design clutter. The Columbus, Ohio set feels like a 10-storey, futuristic episode of HOARDERS while the Oasis feels a little like a mashup between HOARDERS and TRON. This movie is soooo busy--and proud to be so, too, as the film (and source novel, from what I understand) clearly prides itself on its volume of pop-culture references. It's soo busy and self-interested in what it's doing with the F/X and the 80s references that the audience really has to work to understand and care about the consequences, which is hard with so much foolish war-mongering and nonsense happening in Virtual-land. And if the audience is OK with the puzzle stuff driving the story along, there is still not enough character development to answer the question, who cares?

What sucks, though, and surprisingly so with Spielberg at the helm, is the lack of magic. As cool as the the pop-culture references and the 30-year-old brands are, neither characters nor any magical/youthful theme make the narrative useful at all. In fact, in the middle of all the motion-capture imagery is a very shallow winner-take all notion wrapped up in a set of rather dumb 'wording' puzzles, which creates a vague corporate empire vs. the chosen-one styled resistance.

As cool as video games are today, when you watch them, you are instantly aware that they are video games. That is blatantly clear in READY PLAYER ONE's Oasis. 27 years into the future, the graphics don't seem to be any better--even though there is a VR social media world, with "feel-me" VR suit--which looks like it would only make you sweaty. So I guess, the future has better bandwidth, and no one seems to have issues with processor-speed. Neither good guys or bad guys have much use for an IT Department.  That's good, at least. It's too bad photo-realism doesn’t make its way into the games we play by 2045. But, I digress.

Ultimately, READY PLAYER ONE is an ineffective set of juggling acts: VR action vs. real world consequences. The film warns us to be careful of meeting people on line while at once supporting the notion of that's where love lies. And cheapest of all, READY PLAYER ONE pushes (relentlessly, mind you with the barrage of visuals, violence, and mayhem--VR and real-world) the theme of competition and winning at all cost despite declaring blatantly that the Oasis' and one of the film's own themes is about having fun, winning be damned. Give me a break.

Despite the mastery of the brief Overlook Hotel scene and the fun of identifying a 'madball' among other childhood memories, this film is little more than shallow over-indulgence.

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