Being a child of the 80’s, the idea of a ”family movie night” has been something of a distant memory for awhile. All of the major networks at some point featured movies during prime time, and as cable and new media took over, the idea of watching a flick ”live” on TV kind of went away – as did the gathering aspect for a lot of families. Despite the often negative perceptions toward corporate sponsorships and product placement, Walmart and P&G (Procter & Gamble) have been making an attempt to rekindle the spirit with their own FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT series.
Premiering this Friday, December 2 on NBC at 8pm ET/7pm CT is GAME OF YOUR LIFE, the ninth film produced under the Family Movie Night banner since it’s inception last year. While my daughter is still too young for the film (she’s only two), the folks from P&G invited me to view the film early and share some thoughts here on The Rock Father™ blog. Having some experience in the filmed entertainment department myself, I was happy to oblige.
When industrious high school gamer Zach Taylor lands a prized scholarship to the prestigious Digital Institute of Game Design (DIGD), his future breaks wide open. The opportunity to study under gaming legend Marcus Bentton and alongside the country’s most creative minds will certainly propel him into a successful career as a video game designer. That is, if he can pass the infamous freshman project that eliminates more than half of the class within the first three months.
Paired with brilliant yet socially awkward teammates Phillip and Donald, the trio persuades Sara Ramirez – a determined and striking team leader with whom Zach has a history (and possibly a future) – to join their team. Working off-campus in the teched-out Lincoln Alley loft, the four set out to involve the entire campus in a quirky new social interactive game. But as the group becomes entrenched in the project, Zach learns that his father Billy, a widower, is facing growing financial woes at home. To help out, Zach accepts an opportunity to work directly with Marcus Bentton on a secretive side project that seems too good to be true. The effort requires nearly all of Zach’s time and energy, which he should be devoting to the project. Struggling to keep it together, Zach is torn between his responsibility to his team, his admiration for Bentton and a chance to help his father.
Everything comes to a breaking point when Zach’s team threatens to remove him from the group and the deceptive truth behind Bentton’s project comes to light. With the guidance of Professor Abbie Lambert, Zach must make a decision that not only affects his future, but the lives and livelihoods of the people around him as well. It’s a revealing story that recognizes the magnitude behind the choices we make and the importance loyalty plays in making good decisions.
At it’s core, GAME OF YOUR LIFE is about decisions – specifically that of “right and wrong.” Titus Makin Jr. of GLEE fame does a respectable job asZach, being caught between his loyalty for his team or the opportunity to score a quick buck (in this case $10K) under-the-table to help his Dad. Tom Nowicki (THE PUNISHER ’04) is genuinely despicable as the villainousBentton, a particularly timely character revealed to have made his fortunes solely off the work of others while never “creating” anything himself. Lea Thompson (BACK TO THE FUTURE) is likable as always as Zach’s professor, but is sadly underused here. Newcomer Dana De La Garza (whom I’m sure was great in her uncredited turn as “pool babe” in an episode of the failed KNIGHT RIDER reboot) is a stern leader for the class project (and object of Zach’s affection) – while Nathan Kress (iCARLY) and Adam Cagley (THE HARD TIMES OF RJ BERGER) are used more for comic relief and frame filler than anything else. Interesting to note that the Microsoft XBOX Kinect gets a little bit of screentime (product placement), while a snippet of the LA ROUX hit Bulletproof is heard as well during the same scene.
At one point, Zach finds himself playing a development version of a game that he says is like “going nowhere, like life” – and in some cases that can describe the on-screen action that often plays like an episode of a TV series that’s been stretched to fill the time slot. Zach’s team has an intriguing idea with their “SECOND LIFE meets FACEBOOK” project, but too much time is spent following Zach’s side-gig/set-up that allows the bow-tie aficionado Bentton to get his hands on something called “McKanik” at Zach’s expense.
There’s a real opportunity to provide some quality entertainment for Family Movie Night – movies that will be memorable and lasting. Sadly, many of the films chosen thus far rely on vastly-overdone stories and cliches that will be quickly forgotten. “Family Movie Night” should not be code for “sterile programming,” which is unfortunately what we tend to get when people set their sights on making non-offensive, family titles. In the case of GAME OF YOUR LIFE, it carries so much of a “made-for-TV” vibe that it feels empty – much like the corporate park that I assume was used to stand-in for the “Digital Institute of Game Design” in the film. Actually, that KNIGHT RIDER reference I made above was a little bit of foreshadowing… if Michael Knight and K.I.T.T. would’ve shown up to foil Bentton and his evil plot, we could’ve had a mediocre episodic straight out of ’85.
I believe in what Family Movie Night stands for, but think that P&G has a lot of work to do if they want to create something that will stand the test of time.
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
For more on upcoming Family Movie Night events, “like” the official Facebook page and keep your eye on the official site.
FTC Disclosure: This review was written while participating in a campaign by Dad Central Consulting on behalf of P&G. The Rock Father™ received a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.