Well here’s a pleasant surprise.
“Gatlopp” might be a supernatural board game comedy plainly inspired by “Jumanji,” with the players trapped “in” this supernatural game until it finishes and they face up to their “issues.” But the script has flashes of wit and a dash of pathos, and the cast throw themselves into this no-budget indie’s mania with gusto. So it generates laughs and a moment or two of sad self-examination, and best of all, it plays.
Jim Mahoney (“The Orville”), who scripted the darkly-adorable holiday cartoon “Klaus” for Netflix, wrote and stars in this story of four friends-since-college pals kind of collectively hitting the wall, even though Paul (Mahoney) seems to be the real basket case of their quartet.
Samantha (Emmy Raver-Braveman of TV’s “Umbrella Academy”) is a brusque, embattled, over-scheduled TV producer. Troy (Sarunas J. Jackson, best-known for TV’s “Insecure”) is a tall, handsome actor trying to piece together a career that hasn’t really hit. And Cliff (Jon Bass of TV’s “Miracle Workers: Oregon Trail”) is still doing clubwork — DJing, “promotions” and the like, obviously stuck in some sort of college-era rut.
But Paul is the one whose house just sold, whose marriage just ended. He’s got to move into the Venice bungalow Cliff must have inherited. He’s not handling it well, so that’s where they all gather, at the scene of over a decade of parties and good times, just to console him.
A clever touch — Cliff has a “Mistakes Wall” covered with Polaroids of all his friends at their drunken worst at various parties. That includes a shot of Cliff, passed out, his mates having given him a “Braveheart” face-paint job.
Paul might not be in the mood for this, seeing as how his cheating ex (Shelley Hennig) is badgering him to sign the divorce papers and we’ve just seen him download his bile on the happy, eyes-on-the-future couple buying their old home. Good rant, by the way.
But Cliff’s counting on him and everybody else, so bottom’s up. And by the way, there was this board game with the Swedish word for “gauntlet,” “Gatlopp,” as its title, that was tucked into this credenza Cliff just acquired. Let’s play and drink and “test our knowledge of the world!”
The others are reluctant, but the concentric circles board is unfolded, the die is rolled and the cards flipped over as they skip right past the rules and dive in.
Innocuous questions turns seriously personal, the drinking turns into a “drinking game” as wrong answers get “punished.” And then the punishment turns ugly.
Shrieks of “This isn’t HAPPENING” are greeted with a card that says “This is happening.”
And as they’re debating whether this scenario is more “Black Mirror,” “Hitchcock” or “Outer Limits,” first blood is drawn.
Mahoney and director Alberto Belli (Netflix’s “Casa de Flores,” “House of Flowers”) tell the story with flashbacks and teleportations. Sometimes, the game takes them back to pivotal moments from their past. Other times they’re hurled onto some ’80s Jazzercise challenge TV show to DIY a routine…or die.
That’s the implication, that if they don’t finish “by sunrise” they’re goners. And that’s a warning. Watch what you say.
“Go to HELL, Paul!” could send somebody off in a poof, and getting him back is just as easy. Only he’s a bit singed, now.
The energy of the cast sells the longtime-nature of the relationships, and even smaller roles — Hennig as the shallow, manipulative ex-wife and Jon Ales as the shallower, 50something rich foreign douche she’s taken up with — stick and find a laugh or two.
“Gatlopp” can show its budget and feel a little malnourished, here and there. And the emotional moments are mostly superficial cliches, with a trite, tried and true familiarity.
But no cut-rate, scratch-the-emotional-surface “Jumanji” knock-off should play this cute, funny and sweet.
Rating: unrated, violence, sexual situations, profanity, alcohol abuse
Cast: Jim Mahoney, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Sarunas J. Jackson, Jon Bass, Shelley Hennig and Jon Ales.
Credits: Directed by Alberto Belli, scripted by Jim Mahoney. An XYZ release, on demand June 23.
Running time: 1:21