Writer/director Jesse Warn’s “Nemesis Game” is a mild diversion. It’s not bad enough to be useless, but it’s not quite good enough to surpass average. Wait, does that make sense? Well yes, if you’ve seen “Nemesis Game,” which stars Carly Pope as Sara, a college student who is searching for the meaning of life via games involving riddles. Her playing partner is older man Vern (Adrian Paul), who looks surprisingly buff for a guy who runs a comic book store.
In about 90 minutes of running time, we watch Sara get deeper and deeper into a mysterious game involving murder and a clearly loony (or is she?) woman name Emily Gray (Rena Owen), who just might be the creepiest woman to ever be captured on celluloid. Since the accidental passing of her mother, Sara has been a social outcast — or at least that’s what every character in the movie keeps telling us, although it’s amusing to note that for a loner “outcast” Sara dresses surprisingly well, not to mention sporting an expensive haircut that clearly needs daily maintenance. I expected a loner to look a bit more disheveled, but maybe that’s just me.
“Nemesis Game” wants to be a psychological thriller, but it’s mostly just average. Writer/director Warn seems to think he has the makings of a philosophy paper in the guise of a movie. “Nemesis Game” asks a lot of questions about life, why things happen, etc. Apparently there’s a grand design to life that can only be understood after one solves a series of riddles. Although why the riddles are so childish and simple doesn’t really seem to make much sense. Then again, I’m sure Warn knows more than we do, so why question him? Wait, isn’t the whole movie about questioning things? Now I’m confused.
The whole ambiguous ending gimmick is a favorite with filmmakers who realize they’ve written themselves into a box. Once you’ve declared that your movie is going to be “deep” and “thoughtful,” it behooves you not to offer up a straightforward payoff, lest you be accused of giving “easy answers” to the mindless moviegoing horde. We are supposed to “imagine the answer for ourselves,” only I didn’t pay good money to see a movie that asked me endless stupid questions just so I can do something for myself. You’ll forgive my cerebral laziness.
Adrian Paul, last seen stinking up the joint as a silly vampire in “The Breed” and as a silly VR program in “Codehunter” before that, dyes his hair blond and finally gets a good role to sink his teeth into. Paul’s Vern is the best thing about “Nemesis Game,” and I wanted to know more about his character. If not that, then at least what happened to Adrian Paul the actor. He had a burgeoning movie career coming off the “Highlander” TV series, but has since shown up in very minor secondary roles in lousy, secondary movies. What happened, Adrian? (Hey, more stupid questions! I blame it on the movie.)
Instead the movie follows Sara from beginning to end — in fact, director Jesse Warn really seems to like shooting actress Carly Pope in close-up and from a low angle. I now have intimate knowledge of Pope’s face — it has an odd shape and her nose is really small and sharp. We also learn that Sara’s mother died in a car accident and she’s very ticked off at daddy for remarrying so soon. That, and every character keeps trying to convince us that Sara is supposed to be a traumatized loner/social outcast. Pope pulls off the traumatized part, mostly because she seems to have only one facial expression, but again, those sure are nice threads and bouncy expensive hair for a social outcast.
I’m not trying to say that “Nemesis Game” is a bad movie. It’s a relatively harmless movie, and despite its delusions of being “deep,” it’s a simple movie stitched together by riddles normally found in Kindergarten classes. Which leads me to this conclusion: If the meaning of life lies at the end of riddles like, “When is a door not a door?”, then the meaning of life must really be worthless. Or at least really lame.
Jesse Warn (director) / Jesse Warn (screenplay)
CAST: Ian McShane …. Jeff Novak
Rena Owen …. Emily Gray
Adrian Paul …. Vern
Carly Pope …. Sara Novak