First of all, “Virtually Heroes” wasn’t really lost. It was sort of abandoned back in 2013. Finished, but not even released that I’m aware of.
It’s a “Roger Corman” film in that he produced it, and his name got Mark Hamill for an on-the-nose cameo that lasts about six minutes and shows up at the beginning of the third act. Corman produced ten times as many movies (515) as he directed (56). So, something special? Something rare? Not really.
Corman was famous for giving generations of filmmakers their start, from Coppola and Demme and Scorsese and Sayles to Cameron and Dante and Ron Howard. G.J. Echternkamp, who directed this, made less than a handful of execrable flops. Suffice it to say he’s no Joe Dante.
There are glimpses of actors Jan Michael Vincent and Robert Patrick, archival footage from some earlier Corman productions from when Patrick was just about ready to shave for the first time and Vincent was still alive.
But setting out to make a “cult” film rarely pays off. We can always tell when folks are trying too hard, and that’s what’s happening in this attempt to spoof the video game experience.
It’s a Vietnam War action picture about two self-aware video game characters (Robert Baker and Ben Chase) who try and try and try again to complete their “mission,” rescuing hostages from the North Vietnamese Army. Or is it the Viet Cong?
“These guys are wearing tan. That means they’re a LOT tougher than the guys in black!”
At least, that’s the way it plays out in the game, which freezes up (“LOADING” graphics), features acres of dusty Southern Cal locations doubling for humid Southeast Asia and has our “heroes” shooting up legions of brown folks and shouting “USA! USA!” right up to the moment when they’re “killed” again, and have to restart the game and try once more.
That’s the funniest conceit here, that this is a “this time we win” Vietnam fantasy. And the two supermen can’t quite manage it.
Katie Savoy plays the shapely, anti-war photographer grizzled Books (Baker) can never wholly “save,” never quite steal a “kiss” from.
Humans mostly behave like “humans” in this gamescape. Save for Lt. Ho (Sam Medina), a bullet-dodging martial arts master who dispatches his victims with a Bond villain golden luger.
“That dude was like a Vietnamese Spider Man!”
There are NPCs (“non-player characters”) and jokes about NPCs, and by the commanding officer NPC (Gregory North).
“The terrain makes the Ozarks look like Busch God-D—-d GARDENS!”
And Mark Hamill shows up as “The Monk,” offering fortune cookie wisdom about how never finishing the game helps the character (or player) “perfect himself.” I’d quote more of him, but he has most of the good lines, and there’s no point in robbing you of the pleasure of Master Mark’s moments of wisdom.
The tone is jokey enough, a few of the gags land. When our two man rescue squad runs to the edge of their “map,” they’re about to leave the gamescape. Their faces mash up against unseen glass.
Cheap, funny and effective, kind of the hallmarks of a Robert Corman production. If only they’d had more of those.
Still, I suppose if you’ve quaffed a few, edibled a few others and what not, this could be a nonstop giggle.
Cast: Robert Baker, Ben Chase, Katie Savoy, Kevin Trang, Theo Breaux, Ben Messmer, Sam Medina and Mark Hamill
Credits: Directed by G.J. Echternkamp, scripted by Matt Yamashita. A Screen Media release.
Running time: 1:23