Directed by Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Juliette Lewis
Fast-paced and nail-biting are not ways I thought I'd describe a movie directed by the guys behind Catfish, but the thriller Nerve left my hands sweating and heart racing. The film has its very major flaws, but there's no denying it's a small treat in the middle of massive summer blockbusters.
Emma Roberts plays straight-laced Vee, a high school senior bursting at the seams with promise and teenage angst. She's smart enough to know her limits, but dumb enough to still rate herself with those around her. When her friend Sydney (Emily Meade) introduces her to a secret online game called Nerve, Vee's first response is one of scoffing. But, after an embarrassing run-in with her high school crush, and a meandering conversation about her unwillingness to branch out and "live a little," Vee downloads the game and begins an evening of high stakes and daring stunts.
While Roberts carries the movie well, playing up the innocent girl-next-door tropes perfectly, it's Dave Franco who really shines as Ian, the older, tough guy with a secret past and a desire to win the game.
After the two haphazardly meet during Vee's first attempt at completing a dare (kissing a stranger), the night quickly becomes young and the pair set out to be the most daring of partners. It's here that directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman begin to straddle the action/thriller course and an underlying romantic build, to almost seamless proportions.
The movie soars in the sweaty palm stunt arena, giving Roberts and Franco plenty of opportunities to make audiences squeamish (like when Franco finds himself dangling from a construction crane on the top of a Manhattan skyrise) and embarrassed (as when both Roberts and Franco dash out of a luxury store in their underwear). I don't want to give all of the dares away, but there are definitely moments when your heart will be racing and your eyes will want to look away.
Seen from the perspective of their devices, the thrills benefit from a sense of realness and believability.
It works in the movie's favor that this is released in the midst of the PokemonGO craze. While we all simultaneously play the game everywhere we go, and moan about the amounts of people wandering around cities trying to catch them all, the idea of an online game taking the city by storm is not as far-fetched as it would have been had this film been released five or ten years ago.
While it heightens the thrills, the fact that the plot is set in one evening, with locations across busy New York, it gets a little distracting trying to figure out how, in the real world, this would all be possible. Sure, you've got to look at it through the eyes of movie realism, but when the film is setting out to end on a analogous monologue about internet safety and hiding behind one's screen name, there has to be a genuine angle in order for it to work. This is where everything shifts from overwhelming intensity to faltering finale.
Mixed with the "how did they do that" stunts and great performances by the mostly young cast of newcomers, including rapper Machine Gun Kelly, Parenthood's Miles Heizer, and Orange is the New Black's Kimiko Glenn and Samira Wiley, Nerve is a great ride and worth a Saturday afternoon.
Runtime: 1h 36min