Press Start, the indie low (and I mean low) budget film by Ed Glaser and Kevin Folliard, brought to us by Dark Maze Studios, has a lot of heart and good intention.
Unlike the litany of video game movies that capitalize on franchise popularity, Press Start is a film made by gamers, for gamers. It’s what happens when you give a group of video game enthusiasts a camera, production staff, and a thumbs up. However, its protracted humor, poor acting, and unrelenting desire to pack as many video game references into 100 minutes as possible weighs down the movie’s enjoyment considerably.
As many of our “What if video games invaded our life?” imaginations begin, Press Start sees our hero Zack Nimbus waking up in his bedroom, only to find out that his bathroom door won’t open. After noticing a strange device fastened onto one of his bedroom outlets, he discovers that it’s a motion detector which activates his door. He puts his hand in front of it, and the door opens. Once he moves away from it, it closes. Zack proves to be a quick learner, and after bonking his head on the door slamming shut in his face, he pushes his book shelf in front of the sensor: open sesame. Classic adventure game puzzle you say? This introductory scene aptly sets the stage for Press Start’s very specified tone.
Once Zack makes his way downstairs and is served breakfast that’s cartoonishly prepared by his uncle (flailing arms, and a series of ingredients being dumped into a plate), and after he receives a dire warning of the dangers that lurk in the woods, he sets off on his adventure.
Press Start is, in essence, a coming of age story of this small town teen who, through a sequence of game-related encounters, finds his purpose outside of a life that we assume is saturated in ordinary suburbia. Along Zack’s discovery of his heroic destiny, he meets a series of endearing characters that help the audience buy in to Press Start’s gaming street cred. We meet Sam, a space-suit-wearing gunslinger who couldn’t be a more obvious reference to Metroid, and Lin-Ku, whose V-shaped ninja suit made me wish that he tore out spines Mortal Kombat-style. Together, they run into oddly placed vendors, NPCs who repeat their lines, and unhelpful fairies that state the obvious, all while engaging in a series of 2D, FPS, and turn-based battles.
Press Start is filed with all types of winks and nods of this ilk, many of which are cleverly written, but poorly delivered. Also, it takes a particular level of appreciation and actual knowledge of video game history to get anything that Press Start has to offer. If the joke about boss rush stages and how they needlessly push you through a meat grind of boss battles goes over your head, with Press Start’s lack of comedic timing and execution, you won’t even find it remotely funny.
All of this is to defeat Count Nefarious Vile, the obligatory villain who has claimed the lives of a number of video game icons, and brags about setting up traps of floating platforms and barrel throwing gorillas. Peter A. Davis’ performance as Count Vile steals the show, or at least what’s left of it, as the rest of Press Start’s acting and directorial efforts toe the line of campy and talentless.
Unlike Tarantino’s grungy filter, and Ferrante’s so-bad-it’s-good direction, Press Start hardly hits the notes of a successful low budget, B-movie performance. It lacks the delivery and theatrical panache often used in cultural parodies, and instead falls victim to dodgy acting and overly referential jokes. There’s nothing wrong with preaching to the choir, but this choir deserves something of much better quality.