Games People Play: New
Elias Savada, 7 May 2004
With a sequel (Games
People Play: Hollywood) already in post-production and other
cities laying in (fear, joy, Jello) that award-winning documentary
filmmaker James Ronald Whitney (Just, Melvin: Just Evil) may
send up their town, in the presumably singularly
one-cheap-trick-pony way of his initial effort Games People Play:
New York, just remember who Whitney is playing his game on:
Y-O-U. The film, which dragged itself into Washington's new E Street
Cinema (the second multiplex opened here by Landmark) on April 9th
and whimpered out a few weeks later, was welcomed by a local casting
call for the planned Games People Play: The Bible Belt.
Whitney strips away the gloss (and a good many of the contestants'
clothes) in this "pilot" for a way-off-network reality game show.
Beyond the titillation, there's not much to recommend the film, shot
over a 72-hour period and offering a $10,000 prize to the barest
(soul and otherwise) of them all. The only way anyone in the
audience will win is if they walk out on the film, seek out
management, and ask for their money back.
This 97-minute "documentary" certainly has
a bite, but that's the problem. It's just one bite. When you're
hungry for something (new, erotic, comic), all you get is another
absurdist variation on what's already airing out there on today's
survival-fear factor-temptation island television grid. Back in
2001, director-writer Daniel Minahan took the genre to a whole new
dimension with Series 7: The Contenders, the first truly
original send-up of the survivor-based shows, with a deadly dose of
gladiator humor." With Games, it's time to bury reality
take-offs once and for all.
Taking the dawn-to-dusk approach, Whitney
starts out one Thursday with the pre-audition queue in Tribeca, New
York City, and finishes off Sunday night with the winners being
named and the wool being pulled over our eyes. In the pre-selection
line outside the staging area from which six finalists ultimately
will be selected, a good many contestants, suitcases in hand, get
pissed off and tossed back on the street. They're not attractive
enough for even the first round of "America's most uninhibited game
show." Sorry, Christine, the red clown nose didn't work for the
judges: television therapist Dr. Gilda Carle (featured in
Whitney's Emmy-winning HBO documentary
Telling Nicholas) and
actor-singer-entertainer-writer-producer Jim Caruso.
So while that
muffled, canned game show music plays in the background, the
auditions move forward in the foreplay, er, foreground with the
handsome twenty-somethings striking pretty poses, searching for low
budget fortune and fame. Briefly, they get a chance early on to
relive a painful, life-wrenching experience in their past: eating
disorders, suicide, rape, sodomy, etc. Basically, baring their inner
souls before shedding their outer garments. As this film is about
inhibitions, or lack thereof, the naked rumps, bare chests, rustled
hair, and more (or less, actually) greets "Hour 4" when there's a
honeymoon scene with an erotic "final cut decider." More hijinks
russled hair, and true life moments more and less allow for the
judges to whittle down the 250 "actors" to the six who occupy most
of the driver's seat during the last hour. They are known as Joshua
Coleman (a Tourette's Syndrome survivor), bulimic Dani Marco, gay
dancer/male escort David Maynard, Scott Ryan (who would rather not
have David hitting on him), Sarah Smith (who earns high marks for
her chewing gum placement in a foot fetish episode), and parentally
abused Elisha Imani Wilson. The rest of the film plays out such
fantasies as the men asking complete strangers in Times Square for
urine samples (and getting a signed release); while the ladies
engage in (toilet) stall tactics, soliciting their women's room
neighbors for toilet paper, name, astrological sign, and bra sizes
in increasing point amounts. Candid Camera eyeglass cameras are de
rigeur, particularly in a segment called the "Naked Trio," involving
two men (one a stranger), one woman, and a music stand. And a signed
release, of course. Another game is labeled "Delivery Boy's Dream"
The whole affair
is rather tawdry (and the film is being released un-rated). The
banal lyrics play up "making love on camera in Games People Play,"
but the reality of this film is a full-frontal, soft-core put-on.
The players are real (or are they), it's Games People Play: New
York that is a bit stranger in the head. One certainty in this
film: if you've sat through the entire film, you've lost the game.
James Ronald Whitney
Elisha Imani Wilson
Dr. Gilda Carle
PG-13 - Parents
Some material may be
children under 13.