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I originally reviewed the independent comedy Gamers back in the summer of 2006. At the time, it was being completely self-distributed, and after the review appeared, writer/director Chris Folino and I became friends, to the point of Chris bringing me onboard Catastrophic Comics as editor and Chief Zorlac. I say all that as full disclosure, but I did not know Chris when I wrote about this film.

So why repost this now? Because his little Cinderella story has a happy ending -- with Gamers picked up for distribution by Monterey Media, and it will be released in stores on Tuesday, May 6, 2008. It's still funny; it's still a little bit wrong; it's still absolutely worth your time.

Something about the use of Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend" over a fantasy campaign map sets exactly the right tone for Gamers. Mike Reno's passionate vocals match the intensity with which these guys roll their twenty-sided dice. The five intrepid menchildren who are the focus of the film all believe themselves far cooler than they actually are.

Sure, that set up sounds a bit cliché, but Gamers has something better than self-awareness to set itself apart. It has a good script, genuinely talented actors and a willingness to go just about anywhere for a laugh. Oh, and yeah, it gets those laughs.

Set up as a mockumentary, though that conceit phases in and out, the film covers a group of friends that have been playing Demons, Nymphs and Dragons (DND) for twenty-three years. Five more hours and they will set the record for the longest running game, beating out a group of corn farmers that role play after the chores are done.

On the eve of their victory, of course, things start to fracture. But writer/director Christopher Folino is far more interested in the lives (or non-lives, as the case may be) these guys have created for themselves. The film spends time with each of the players, establishing all their delusions.

The most poignant might be Gordon (Kevin Kirkpatrick), whose biography matches up with Folino's early professional life. Working in public access television, Gordon thinks he just might have it in him to become a filmmaker. Unlike Folino, however, Gordon is also pretty socially inept, ruined by years of gaming and the harsh ribbing that only longtime friends can provide.

Kirkpatrick plays the character with a dawning sense of his own inadequacy. In every interview, you can see the arc as Gordon starts realizing that what he's saying makes no sense and tries to cover for it. He's the first to figure out that maybe they need to move away from their parents' homes, though Gordon considers his own living situation temporary, "…until (his) parents die."

Despite all the characters have in common, Folino and his actors make them all very distinct. Paul (Scott Allan Rinker), the manipulative ringleader, lives for DND, but can pass for normal in a way that Reese (Dave Hanson) cannot.

Proving that pecking orders exist no matter where you are on the scale, Reese is, in fact, the most loathed of the group by the rest of the group. Hanson improvised a lot on the set, and some of his rantings pay off big time, even on the DVD menu. The character has a strange predilection for naming his elfling warrior women after 70's TV icons, and his mourning for Farrah runs right past pathetic and into hilarious.

Of course, Farrah met her untimely end at the hands of the arrogant Dungeon Lord Kevin (Kevin Sherwood). He keeps his life secret from the rest (or so he thinks), and his cluelessness defies belief. (Listen to a sample of his job.) Yet therein lies the strength of the film's comedy - it's fearless, fearless stuff.

Even in its outrageousness, it also flows naturally from the set-up, just taking it to a conclusion too far for conservative tastes. Starting with Gordon holding a public wake for his first elf character and including a musical version of The Passion of the Christ, the movie has moments that gleefully offend, especially when it focuses on the "lost" player - a guy that really had issues.

Most of the actors fall in the "hey, I've seen that guy" category, as they've floated around in walk-on parts on sitcoms and dramas over the last few years. But Folino also got a few recognizable names to show up and steal a scene or two. As Gordon's parents, John Heard and Beverly D'angelo strike a chord. Many of our parents have likely had this conversation.

Eighties icons William Katt and Kelly LeBrock also pop up, and Folino uses them for more than shock value. Katt especially has a great monologue as Reese's boss, encouraging him to find "…a game where you can't die!"

It's not a perfect film, necessarily. The plot does meander, though most of its digressions do weave back around for pay-offs. As often happens with movies this low-budget, the editing feels just slightly off, though not enough to blow any jokes.

Rather, for a low-budget film, Gamers has spark, heart and originality. That includes the game these guys play; Folino had the rights to Dungeons and Dragons up until the eleventh hour; going with a non-existent game actually lifts the movie into a clever place it might not have been otherwise.

I'm recommending it because it made me laugh hard, and it will make you laugh hard, too. If you're lucky, you're not one of the guys featured in this movie, and if you are, well, laugh anyway.

Watch the trailer here

Buy Gamers on Amazon!

Derek McCaw


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