Disclaimer: if it has “James Rolfe” or “AVGN” on it, I am there, wearing the t-shirt. Say what you will about his writing and acting skills, the concept he had (a foul-mouthed nerd plays and critiques “shitty games that suck ass”) made him one of the original Youtube viral successes, and he never had to lip-sync an embarrassing europop song to do it.
That said, here comes the pain.
What can I say about the long-awaited AVGN movie? It isn’t funny. It consumed a quarter of a million dollars, several years of James’ life, and deprived us of countless AVGN episodes…and I sat in my seat, waiting nearly two hours for it to get good. I laughed about three times. Mostly because the movie was trying so damn hard that I didn’t want to hurt its feelings. It uses the “two people sound like they’re having sex but they’re actually doing something different” gag. That’s the kind of screenplay-level desperation we’re dealing with here.
The concept behind the movie is the notoriously bad Extra-Terrestrial videogame for the Atari 2600 (which killed the early videogame industry, was mass-buried in landfill, blah blah, everyone knows the story). Remember how it became a running joke that James would refuse to review that game? Well, he’s finally doing it. But why the chickenshit renaming of “ET” to a fictionalised game called “Eee-Tee”? It’s not as if isn’t selling DVDs full of copyrighted game footage already.
The film’s surprisingly talky and elaborate for a character normally associated with scatological profanity and temper tantrums. Soon we learn about government conspiracies and Area 51 and alien baddies. Is there a need for this stuff? We just want to see James doing his thing: ripping on shitty games. Instead we’ve got him uncomfortably acting out weird, not especially funny scenarios with a cast of characters we don’t care much about.
The problem isn’t the small budget – Blair Witch was made for less. The problem is James: and his comedic limitations. Here’s the harsh truth: he isn’t a jack of all trades, able to sing and dance and conjugate sixteen versions of “shitwaffle”. He lucked his way into a format that he was well-suited for (10-20 minute web shorts)…but that’s pretty much where his talents end. I have no desire to see him in full-length movies with actual storylines. And the moments in his AVGN videos that get high-flown and pretentious (the R.O.B. video, anyone?) are the precise moments when I set Youtube’s playback to 2x speed.
The movie winds to its conclusion, and we get to the high point: the review of ET…Or “Eee-Tee”, I guess. It’s kind of quiet and dispirited, low on rage and profanity, but it’s the best part of the movie, because it’s honest. James comes to the realisation that ET isn’t the worst game ever made, and that the problem is with us, and how we manage our expectations. One feels justified in thinking he might be talking about the movie, too – how some people expect the moon on a fucking stick, when sometimes you have to enjoy something for what it is.
That’s what I think he’s saying, anyway. But I took a different lesson from it: know your limits. James is a great web comedian. But he’s never going to be a movie star, and this movie writes “QED” on that statement with permanent ink.