THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Level Up is a good example of a familiar formula being effectively executed. The movie tells that old tale about an average person who has a loved one kidnapped and subsequently has to carry out a series of missions dictated by the captors in order to save that person's life. This basic plot has fueled quite a few films over the years. Level Up has a lead character who is a hardcore gamer, but even that's not entirely original; the recent Beta Test featured a gamer in a very similar scenario. Even if it's all basically been done before, the formula is carried out in a sufficiently entertaining manner.
Josh Bowman plays Matt, a man in his twenties who doesn't have a whole lot of ambition aside from playing online videogames. One day, his girlfriend Anna (Leila Mimmack) is abducted by intruders. Those same men knock Matt unconscious, then strap a vest to him. Upon awakening, he is told that he has to deliver a package inside that vest to a man named Dimitri, plus carry out a number of other missions. Failure to complete them will lead to Anna's death. Thus begins a race across London, during which Matt tries to uncover the secrets of the puppet-masters.
Level Up makes two very smart choices in the telling of its tale. The first is opting not to take itself too seriously. None of the tasks Matt must complete make sense to him, but one or two – like a bit involving a karaoke bar – are a tad silly. That slight wink to the audience makes it easier to ignore the unavoidable gaps in logic that these types of stories inherently have. The other smart choice is to not over-explain the hows and whys of the journey Matt is forced to take. By the end, we understand what's going on at a basic level, and that's enough. Trying to justify every last little detail would have painted Level Up into a corner from which it could never get out.
Because of these things, we're free to sit back and enjoy a ride. Director Adam Randall keeps the pace moving right along, efficiently gliding from one scenario to the next so that we never grow bored or lose interest. Cinematographer Eben Bolter, meanwhile, gives Level Up a fluid style that perfectly adapts to whatever the particular scene is. When Matt is running through the London streets, the bright, spacious visuals capture the distinct hustle-and-bustle of a city. In something like the film's best scene, which finds Matt trapped inside the squalid apartment of an obviously volatile drug dealer, the photography grows darker, moodier, and more claustrophobic, emphasizing the danger he's in.
The pacing and cinematography keep Level Up compelling, but so does the lead performance. Josh Bowman brings a terrific Everyman quality to Matt. The gamer is not some superhero. When he gets punched, he hurts. You feel the fear coming off him as he struggles to comply with the orders he's been given. Later on, after he puts some pieces of the puzzle together, Matt develops a “burn it all to the ground” attitude. Bowman makes these qualities palpable. Most importantly, the actor really nails the idea that Matt struggles to understand why he's the one who has been picked for all this. We identify with that confusion, which means we gladly follow him everywhere he goes.
Again, movies of this type are generally full of plot holes and/or things that don't quite adhere to logic. Level Up is no different. The situations Matt finds himself in are fun to watch, though. The film really doesn't aspire to be anything more than a joyride, offering some solid thrills and a couple of good laughs.
( out of four)
Level Up is unrated, but contains sequences of violence and strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.
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