One of the true joys of the movie watching experience is having your expectations blown away. This applies to all forms of entertainment, but films are perhaps the best possible example. Because how many times have you seen a trailer and expected something to be God awful, only to be pleasantly surprised by the actual product in the end? It's happened to all of us, countless times.
But sometimes you watch a trailer for something that looks like crap, and the final product ends up being exactly that. Sadly, that's the case with Noobz.
Noobz advertises itself as "the first big, outrageous comedy to capture gamer culture from the inside." And, the thing is, the broad strokes of the movie are not half bad. [Warning: mild spoilers ahead]
Noobz centers on four gamers who, as the Reign Clan, are somewhat proficient at Gears of War. First there's Cody, played by Blake Freeman, who aside from the being the movie's lead, is also its writer/producer/director. He's your average 30 something loser who can't seem to hold a steady means of income, and would rather play video games with his pals than give his wife any attention. Hence why she dumps him early into the proceedings.
Next is Andy, Cody's second banana, portrayed by Jason Mewes, best known as Jay of Jay and Silent Bob fame. His character here is more of a combination of Jay and Randal from Clerks, the film in which Mewes made his big screen debut. Translation: he's your prototypical cool jerk. Third up is Oliver, a guy who everyone assumes is gay, and is thusly the punch line of one lame joke after another. And finally you have Casper Van Dien. Yes, the guy from Starship Troopers. A Hollywood star happens to be part of their gang.
After losing both his job and his woman, Cody is down in the dumps, so Andy suggests that they get everyone together and converge in Los Angeles, where the Cyberbowl Video Game Championships is taking place. The center of it all is—conveniently enough—Gears of Wars, and the grand prize is a ton of cash. So Cody, Andy, and Oliver hit the road, but along the way they have to swing by Utah, where the Hollywood actor lives. And, surprise! It's not Van Dien but the teenage son of the woman he's with (the nature of their relationship is not fully explained), who pretends to be his mom's boy toy.
Also along the way, everyone engages in "witty" banter, the kind that gamers engage in. And once they've arrived, they encounter other gamers, who also portray certain archetypes, which again, gamers are supposed to recognize and perhaps identify with. There's a subplot about an aged pro gamer who wishes to reclaim former glory; the only other game at the Cyberbowl Video Game Championships is Frogger, which said old school champion, Greg "Armagreggon" Lipstein, intends to dominate. Armagreggon is portrayed by character actor Jon Gries, best known as Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite.
Plus, Andy wants to meet his longtime internet girlfriend, who is also a pro gamer and competing in the championship. Her name is Rickie and she's portrayed by Zelda Williams. You know, the daughter of Robin Williams—the two teamed up to promote Legend of Zelda installments on the Wii and 3DS (she was named after her dad's love for the originals on the NES) not too long ago. Now, when laid out like that, does it honestly sound all that bad? Except for the dumb gay jokes of course. No, not really.
When you get down to it, every comedy sounds rather mundane when broken down into bits and pieces. Like a movie starring some guy who acts like John Wayne and who has to help a friend get back his kidnapped girlfriend from the Chinese mafia, who are actually evil ancient spirits. Does that sounds like one of the best comedies ever from the 80s? Again, when plainly described, Big Trouble In Little China hardly sounds hilarious. Yet it is.
Here's the primary issue with Noobz: it sets up potentially interesting situations and does absolutely nothing with them. The script and dialogue is hopelessly uninspired, and the pacing is pure torture. I honestly cannot remember a time in which an hour and forty minute long movie felt so long. Pretty much all the gags are straight from some prime time network comedy that you stumble on by accident, the kind that makes you wonder who watches such nonsense, which you turn away from, never to be thought of ever again.
Back to Oliver, the "is he gay or is he not gay?" character. I suppose I understand the need to have a catalyst for such humor. But even lazy and offensive jokes can be, believe it or not, funny sometimes. But these are not only awful, some are also ancient. Miss Cleo is brought up as at one point; seriously, who anyone under the age of 35 remembers the psychic hotline to begin with? Meanwhile, other attempts at laughs are just boldly ripped off. I believe the goal of Armagreggon was to satirize Billy Mitchell, but instead we get Gries doing the same exact shtick from Napoleon Dynamite, practically verbatim. Lame.
What's especially frustrating is how a few golden opportunities are totally blown. I have no idea why Blake Freeman didn't just have Casper Van Dien play the part of a former Hollywood celeb turning gaming geek throughout the entire thing. It would have made Noobz literally a thousand times more interesting. Instead it's just a chance to have a character (the actual fourth player) who is physically weak harp on a bunch of lame asthma-related jokes.
Actually, the fact that the fourth member is not what everyone was expecting is somewhat touched upon when the Reign Clan encounters a competing group, who also has an odd duck of their own. A few jokes are made, but nothing of substance. So much could have been done with this situation, of a gamer's online identity conflicting their true self.
Are there any positives? Well, you can tell that some of the actors are trying their best to work with the material that they are given. Mewes is the film's brightest highlight; no matter how bad his jokes, the dude is genuinely charming and engaging. Williams is a close second, who also provides a strong performance, mostly because she plays it nice and cool.
That's one other genuine positive: Noobz is filled with gamer clichés, but not as much as one might fear. Rickie's clan is the Pixies, the only all female team of the entire competition. And instead of going for ultra lame brained, girl gamer jokes, they are just presented as competitors who happen to be female. Which is nice and refreshing. Then again, they're barely in the movie. Perhaps if they had gotten more screen time, some sexist comedy would have surfaced.
There's actually very little actual game-playing to be found. Perhaps Blake Freeman figured that most folks would be bored silly by watching people play Gears of War, but it's not as if he even tried. As a result, important showdowns in the tournament have zero dramatic flair. It would seem that the producer/writer/director/star has a certain lack of confidence in the subject matter.
Not only is Noobz not very good, it's also supremely uninteresting, which is the worst kind of bad movie. It's not like an Uwe Boll production, which sucks to such a degree that it leaves a lasting impression, as good or as bad as that might be. Noobz is just not worth the bother, period. If you really want to see a video game comedy, and haven't done so yet, just check out The FP instead.
Matthew Hawkins is a NYC based game journalist who once upon a time used to be an editor for GameSetWatch, self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of the Attract Mode collective, and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on his personal home-base, FORT90.com. He regularly reviews video-game-related movies for Kotaku.