Directed By: Albert Pyun
Starring: Megan Ward, Peter Billingsley, John de Lancie
Tag line: "The game wants to play with you...real bad"
Trivia: Peter Billingsley, who plays Nick, also took part in re-doing the film's CGI effects
To escape her depressing home life, teenager Alex Manning (Megan Ward), whose mother (Sharon Farrell) committed suicide a few months earlier, spends most of her time hanging out with her boyfriend Greg (Bryan Dattilo) and his pals, including Nick (Peter Billingsley), Laurie (A.J. Langer) and Stilts (Seth Green), all of whom are avid gamers. After hearing that a brand new virtual reality game is being test marketed in their area, Alex, Greg and the others, determined to be the first to try it out, race to their local arcade. Once there, the group is greeted by Difford (John De Lancie), a rep for the company that produced the game (titled “Arcade”), who assures them it will provide an experience they won’t soon forget. But when Greg seemingly vanishes into thin air while playing, Alex warns the others that “Arcade” may be much more than it seems.
Later that night, a few others disappear, thanks, in part, to a home version of the game that Difford passed out, free of charge. To learn the truth about what’s going on, Alex and Nick track down the game’s programmer (Norbert Weisser), at which point they discover the only way to rescue their friends is to beat the game before it beats them.
What immediately caught my eye about Arcade, a direct-to-video film produced by Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment, was its cast, which included Peter Billingsley (Ralphie in A Christmas Story), a teenage Seth Green (Scott Evil in the Austin Powers series), A.J. Langer (Alice in The People Under the Stairs), and of course, John De Lancie, better known to fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation as the mischievous “Q”. In addition, its story, about a rogue video game powerful enough to pull players out of the real world and into the game itself, was an intriguing one (the script for Arcade was penned by David S. Goyer, who, in later years, would write Blade as well as Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy). Fortunately, both the cast and the story (which, with the suicide of Alex’s mom, is darker than I originally anticipated) lived up to my expectations and, for the first hour or so, the movie held my attention.
Alas, Arcade begins to fall apart in its final act, when Alex and Nick must enter the game in order to defeat it. While the special effects for these scenes are definitely on the cheap side (understandably, I suppose, considering it’s a low budget movie), it’s the pacing (characters move slowly when common sense dictates they should be running), as well as the simplicity of the game world itself (some of these levels are so easy that a five-year-old could beat them) that undermine this segment of the film.
This, plus a twist ending that wasn’t much of a surprise, makes Arcade one of those rare flicks in which the reality is more interesting than the fantasy it creates.