Games People Play: New York
review by 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 ensue.

Bare butts, 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" turned nightmare.

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.

Written and
Directed by:

James Ronald Whitney

Starring:
Joshua Coleman
Dani Marco
David Maynard
Scott Ryan
Sarah Smith
Elisha Imani Wilson
Dr. Gilda Carle
Jim Caruso

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may be
inappropriate for
children under 13.

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