Posted by Joel Copling on July 26, 2016

"Nerve" has no idea what to do with its central concept. At any given point, the game in which our heroine takes part is a silly distraction from the stress of everyday life, a risky endeavour that's all about the thrill of the dare, the vessel for a cautionary tale about the price of fame following anonymity, and the construct of a shadowy conspiracy that wants to accomplish, well, something. Without giving too much away, that's in chronological order as according to Jessica Sharzer's screenplay. The writer is adapting a novel, unread by me, by Jeanne Ryan, which theoretically and hopefully gets to the essence of the game that shares the film's title in a far more believable way than the film does. It starts off swimmingly, providing characters worthy of our empathy. That empathy stretches as far as the game's logic, though, and it isn't very far.

Let us pause to examine this game. One character, who spends most of his time on the "darkweb," has taken his time to examine its structure and informs our heroine that it "doesn't have any servers." Which is well and good, except that someone is controlling it somewhere in time for a third act that treats the whole thing as if it's a bogeyman. How it works is reasonable: Those who partake are divided into two groups -- "watchers" and "players." They are exactly what those words indicate: The more watchers one has, the more dares a player receives -- or so it seems. Again, one must contend with a third act that tosses aside such a concerns when an unspoken third designator is introduced. Also introduced is an unwelcome moralizing. For a solid opening act, though, the stakes are higher than such childishness. We understand the motivations of certain characters to be a part of a game. The problem is when we are asked to consider just how many are willing to be a part of it and to what end.

The human chattel at the behest of the game's tricks is primarily Vee (Emma Roberts), a young woman about to enter college who wants to attend an atrociously expensive arts school all the way across the country from their home outside of New York City but fears the resistance of her single mother Nancy (Juliette Lewis). Both are mourning the loss of a son and brother, who died suddenly right before attending college. Nerve, a game played on smartphones whose owners must have ridiculous cellular data plans, is the talk of the town, and Vee's go-getter best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) is ruling the ratings. As pushback to Syd's claims that she lives in a comfort zone, Vee (Emma Roberts) joins up, employing clearly smitten other best friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) and teaming up with mysterious fellow player Ian (Dave Franco).

The film essentially becomes a travelogue of the streets of New York City, and if one thing is for certain, it is that directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and cinematographer Michael Simmonds have crafted a visually appealing film, bathing everything in neon and often shooting from the point-of-view of the smartphones in everyone's palms and pockets. Outward style can only get one so far, though, and all it offers here is an entryway into an increasingly ludicrous gimmick that becomes downright odious. Relationships are tested and then tidily remedied, predictable revelations are unveiled and dealt with just as predictably, and the internal logic of this event slowly crumbles. "Nerve" wishes it had a lot more, but it's the question of who in the wide world would play this whose answer borders on off-putting cynicism and casual, fashionable nihilism.

Film Information

Emma Roberts (Vee), Dave Franco (Ian), Emily Meade (Sydney), Miles Heizer (Tommy), Juliette Lewis (Nancy), Colson Baker (Ty).

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and written by Jessica Sharzer, based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan.

Rated PG-13 (thematic material involving dangerous/risky behavior, sexual content, language, drug content, drinking, nudity).

96 minutes.

Released on July 27, 2016.