A strikingly ill-advised attempt at character-driven science fiction that lands with a startling thud, RPG marks the joint directorial debut of tyro helmer David Rebordão, the man behind A Curva, an online short that went viral a few years ago, and veteran producer Tino Navarro, also co-scripting with veteran TV writer Artur Ribeiro. But this is effectively Navarro's baby, and it's a misshapen, ugly one, its intriguing premise being slowly deflated by a futuristic frame that looks shot on a tight budget, wrapped around a clumsily scripted Ten Little Niggers mystery.

     Sometime in the future, a mysterious Mr. Chan (Chris Tashima), head of a company called RPG (for Real Playing Game, in an absurd pun with "role playing game"), brings together ten millionaires by dangling before them the promise of rejuvenation. He does so by inserting them in a "virtual" universe where they will play a survival game, playing in the bodies of young people they have themselves chosen. The trick is the virtual game is one of deadly "musical chairs" - where their young avatars must kill each other then correctly identify the "real" person behind the avatar, leaving only one survivor who will earn the right to start all over again in a rejuvenated body. There is a suggestion of John Frankenheimer's cult classic Seconds in this (though it may possibly be in the eyes of the beholder rather than the filmmaker's), but it quickly disappears as we realise the script flunks on basic motivation reasons.

     Why the millionaires, not all of which came by their fortunes honestly, have to play this game in order to find youth again and why only one of them can win is never adequately explained or suggested other than by a desire to be forever young - as laid out in Mr. Chan's initial talk to our "hero", dying millionaire Steve Battier, played as an aging man by Rutger Hauer in a short guest appearance and as a young man by British actor Cian Barry. Whatever comment the filmmakers may wish to make on the need for a proxy experience that seems to come with the virtual, online worlds of technology is never truly made, since we never find out what exactly drew each of them to this experience (which, mind you, might be a question to pose the mostly unknown young multinational cast who signed up for this).

     Instead, Messrs. Rebordão and Navarro use the virtual game as a sex- and violence-laced thriller that is unable to attribute any sort of agency to its characters other than survival instinct, suggesting the bookending sci-fi frame a mere justification for a titillatingly naughty-nasty video-game vision of humanity that parades a series of lazy stereotypes about youth, gender, violence and relationships. Though the game scenes are laid out with some competence, crisply photographed and making good if uninspired use of the steadycam on its location work in an abandoned resort, the futuristic scenes suffer from unconvincing, basement-bargain design and visual effects. By the time the story wraps up, somewhat abruptly, we feel as we have been conned by a writer who decided to get out of the mess he wrote himself into with a cop-out ending that short-changes both its characters and its viewers.

Cast: Cian Barry, Alix Wilton Regan, Nik Xhelilaj, Pedro Granger, Christopher Goh, Genevieve Capovilla, Dafne Fernández, Reuben Henry Biggs, Cloudia Swann, Débora Monteiro, Chris Tashima, Soraia Chaves, Rutger Hauer
Directors: David Rebordão, Tino Navarro
Screenplay: Artur Ribeiro, Mr. Navarro
Cinematography: José António Loureiro, André Szankowski  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Pedro Marques
Art director: José Pedro Penha
Costumes: Os Burgueses, Eleutério & Mia
Editor: Pedro Ribeiro
Visual effects: Nuno Mesquita, Rafael Galdó
Producer: Mr. Navarro (MGN Filmes)
Portugal, 2013, 102 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 2, Lisbon, August 19th 2013

Trailer RPG from david rebordão on Vimeo.


Anonymous said…
btw: It's 'bargain-basement' not 'basement-bargain'


Max ^_~
Anonymous said…
A basement bargain is what you get from a bargain basement, no? ;)

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