The cheerful, generous employment of vintage second-gen video game graphics and a broad, goofy Nickelodeon/Disney Channel comedy touch are what the makers of the indie film “Hero Mode” hoped to skate by with.
They don’t quite pull it off, but it’s a good example of the resources you can pull together if you land just enough “names” in your cast, and they’re willing to gamble on your script.
Chris Carpenter of “As Far as the Eye Can See” is Troy Mayfield, tenth grade teen programming tyro at Lincoln High, a computer whiz always in search of “the perfect game.”
The son of a programmer, he wants to create such a game, not just play it. His pal Nick (Philip Solomon) is his videographer/hype man who pushes him to release his every creation to “The App Store.”
“We’ll get rich, and then the girls!”
But Troy is a perfectionist, which is how he undercuts widowed Mom (Mira Sorvino) at a company party where they desperately need to impress an “angel investor” with the family company’s newest creation — “Jackhammer.” The antic, aging nerd (Sean Astin) who designed it basically ripped off “Mario” and “Wreck-It-Ralph,” but that’s not the worst problem.
It’s glitchy, hopelessly dated and dull. Even nostalgists won’t go for it if they pitch it at the upcoming game convention, PixelCon.
Troy scares away the investor by pointing out what a disaster “Jackhammer” is, and as he’s suspended from school for “fixing” everybody’s standardized test scores, he has the time to lock himself in an office and save the company and the jobs of folks like Jimmy (Astin), Laura (Mary Lynn Rajskub), Marie (Kimia Behpoornia) and accountant Lyndon (Monte Markham).
The what kid mainly does is irk everybody, try to do it all himself and all but seal their fates with his ego.
The scenes that have the most comic life to them are in high school, which is a pity as the script basically abandons that setting for the Playfield Games offices. Bobby Lee as the “Namaste” preaching vice principal and Erik Griffin are the funniest players in it, Nickeloden-broad and LOUD.
There’s a villainous rival company, Xodus, because of course there is, run by the villainous Rick (Nelson Franklin). A cute granddaughter of the accountant (Paige Massara) stops by the show off her bangs and distract poor Troy.
And by golly, if we don’t NAIL that PixelCon presentation and launch with a bang, we’ll lose the house, so Mom says. She’s got MS, and the stress isn’t helping her condition.
As you can tell with that summary, “Hero Mode” isn’t interesting enough to stand on its own, despite manic efforts by Astin and an amusing line here and there.
“Your kids are going to love this SO much they’re gonna wet YOUR bed!”
The graphics demonstrate how good a “video game movie” you can make on a low budget these days. And the combined elements of the picture make it more interesting to dissect “How they got this made” than watch.
There’s always a bevy of actors from long-canceled sitcoms in films like this. Creed Bratton from “The Office” plays Astin’s character’s disapproving father, and players from “Modern Family,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Veep” fill out the cast.
When they signed on the dotted line, TV actor and production manager turned producer and sometime writer and director A.J. Tesler got to make his movie.
But about the best we can say about it is that at least they had the good sense to abandon the working title — “Mayfield’s Game.”
MPA Rating: PG for suggestive references, language throughout and brief violence
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Chris Carpenter, Indiana Massara, Philip Solomon, Sean Astin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Creed Bratton, Nelson Franklin and Monte Markham.
Credits: Directed by AJ Tessler, script by Jeff Carpenter. A Blue Fox release.
Running time: 1:29