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Ready Player One

If I were a 15-year-old boy and it was 1984 (which I was)…this would be my Citizen Kane. Instead, I’m in my late 40s, and watching a movie that’s playing all these songs from my teenage years, and stuffing in literally hundreds of pop culture references from the time period. It just put my brain on sensory overload. I felt like my head was going to explode like that dude in Scanners (which might be the only movie Spielberg didn’t put in this film). Now, that’s not to say there weren’t moments of cinematic brilliance. There’s a 15 minute race scene that blew my mind (it helps that I was watching it in 3D). There’s another segment that spends a bit of time in the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. I loved that. But…the Willy Wonka-esque story just falls a little short. It made me think of Scott Pilgrim vs the World — which was way better. It made me think of Hot Tub Time Machine — which was way better. They had lots of 80’s references that felt more organic, and were a helluva lot funnier.

The year is 2045, and so the film starts with Van Halen’s “Jump” for some reason. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is living in the slums of Columbus, Ohio, called “The Stacks.” It’s one of the most interesting dystopian set pieces I’ve seen. Instead of ripping off Blade Runner like every other sci-fi dystopian picture does, they have stacks and stacks of vans and old mobile homes for people to live in. Watts lives with his aunt Alice (Susan Lynch), and her latest abusive boyfriend. Like everyone else in society, this man and Watts, are both obsessed with escaping into the OASIS, which is a virtual reality world. The plot thickens when inventor James Halliday (Mark Rylance, who was so great in Dunkirk, so bad in Spielberg’s BFG, making this their third collaboration), creates a game to be played after his death. If you find three magic keys, you win his company. This ruffles the feathers of the CEO of his competitor (the always slimy Ben Mendelsohn) who hires a group of people to try and win. There are lots of groups getting together to play old Atari games and searching archives to find clues. Once Watts wins the first key, and gets a certain degree of fame, the CEO is out to kill him. Both in the game and in real life.

It helps that Watts teams up with Samantha/Art3mis (Olivia Cook, who was so brilliant a few weeks ago in Thoroughbreds), Aech/Helen (Lena Waithe of Orange is the New Black), as well as Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zao). One of whom reminded me of Short Round in Raiders of the Lost Ark 2.

There’s a bit of a love story with Samantha and Watts, but that’s not explored as well as it could’ve been. They do have good chemistry together, though.

It’s nice to hear T.J. Miller’s voice in a villainous (and humorous role). It’s surprising, though…that in the trailer before the movie for Dead Pool 2, he’s still in that. I thought studios were staying clear of anybody with controversy these days (for example, Jeffrey Tambor’s face has been taken off the movie poster for The Death of Stalin). But I digress.

I always smile when Simon Pegg shows up in a movie, but I didn’t this time, since I had no clue he was playing Ogden Morrow until the closing credits. Ogden is sort of the Steve Wozniak to Halliday’s Steve Jobs. There are elements of their relationship that I also wish would’ve been explored more.

Perhaps gamers will appreciate this movie more, with all the talk of Easter eggs and old school video games. Folks that love the 80’s will adore all the pop culture references.

Kids are going to have a blast watching this, even if they don’t get most of the things thrown at them.

There was enough going on that I don’t feel I wasted my time. My wife and I looked at each other and laughed hysterically at a bit involving the alien popping out of the stomach from Alien, and a few other scenes. I would’ve just preferred a better story, and a tighter film.

As I was leaving, to the closing song of Hall & Oates song “You Make My Dreams” — it made me think about how much more I liked hearing the song in Step Brothers and (500) Days of Summer. And, so much of this movie made me think of movies that it reminded me of that I liked more — Ender’s Game, Willy Wonka, Back to the Future, and 10 others.

You won’t be able to say you weren’t entertained, though. And isn’t that what going to the movies is all about?

2 ½ stars out of 5.