Series 7 doesn't deliver any fresh takes on very stale satiric themes.
Thursday, April 19, 2001
There''s such a high been-there-done-that quotient to Series 7: The Contenders that if the film was judged on original content alone, it would be a dead horse not worth beating. Stylistically, however, it''s a horse of another color, perfectly aping the conventions and structure of reality TV programming. Oddly enough, the excellence of its mimicry may be part of the film''s problem.
Series 7 is structured as three, back-to-back, 30-minute episodes of the fictional television game show, The Contenders. The only rules of the game are dictated by the only goal: To stay alive through three series. Six contestants, armed to the teeth, can use any means necessary to eliminate their rivals. The reigning champ is Dawn Logarto (Brooke Smith), an eight-months pregnant woman who has won the two previous games, killing 10 opponents along the way.
In this series, Dawn is competing against Connie (Marylouise Burke), an emergency room nurse with a taste for euthanasia; Tony (Michael Kaycheck), the unemployed construction worker who bullies his wife; Franklin (Richard Venture), the 70-something trailer-trash loner; Lindsay (Merritt Wever), the 18-year-old girl who gets huge support from her parents; and Jeff (Glenn Fitzgerald), an artist and Dawn''s old high school flame.
The big sub-plot in the film is the relationship between Dawn and Jeff, who is suicidally depressed because he''s suffering from testicular cancer. (He''s had an orchiectomy--testicle removal--and no longer has the balls to live. Get it?)
Although Survivor, Cops, Temptation Island and the rest of the reality TV genre is ripe for skewering, writer/director Daniel Minahan can''t seem to find any new angle on some very old themes.
Both Man Bites Dog and Natural Born Killers already explored the media''s lack of responsibility. Years ago, Rollerball did the last-man-standing game theme, and The Running Man already showed us how desperately people will fight for their freedom. And, of course, the concept of a government that knows exactly where you are and what you are doing at all times is at least as old as 1984.
It''s almost as if Minahan looked at the contemporary phenomenon of reality TV through a lens that''s more than 20 years old. When Norman Jewison''s Rollerball came out in 1975 it showed prescience in predicting both the rise of sports superstars to godlike status, and the increased violence of sports. It''s neither prescient nor particularly interesting for Minahan to make the same points 27 years later, when you can turn on the TV and watch "wrestlers" beat each other with chairs, videotapes of animals attacking humans, and bimbos trying to seduce married couples. It isn''t insight, it''s pointing out the obvious.
What Series 7 lacks in original thought, it makes up for with verisimilitude. If you accidentally tuned into this movie when it was being broadcast on television, you might believe that you had found a new, particularly gory, TV game show. At the beginning and end of each episode, there are recaps, previews and promos for upcoming shows.
The hand-held cameras jerk wildly as cameramen follow the contestants, and scenes are filmed on location and with a minimum of artificial light. Each episode is constructed like a television show, right down to breaks for commercials. Except that there are no commercials--which is too bad since satiric advertisements might have given the rest of the movie some context by giving us some insight about the fictional series'' intended audience.
This might have been a great short film or a brilliant skit on Mad TV, but Series 7 doesn''t have enough content to power it through a full hour and a half. And with a running time of only an hour and a half, we don''t see enough of any character to really give a crap about what happens to them--compare that to the 16 hours audiences get to spend with Survivor contestants.
And seeing as the ultimate confrontation between Jeff and Dawn is as inevitable as Dawn''s giving birth at the worst possible moment, there''s not even much suspense to keep us going--which means, in a very critical way, Series 7 isn''t even as good as the shows it lampoons.
Series 7 ...( * 1/2 )
Director: Daniel Minahan
Starring: Brooke Smith, Michael Kaycheck, Marylouise Burke, Richard Venture, Merritt Wever, Glenn Fitzgerald
Where: Osio Plaza
When: See Movie Times