Synopsis: A group of old friends reunites for a nostalgic evening of fun and games after a decade apart. After one too many, they decide to play a drinking game, but it’s quickly revealed that this game comes with supernatural stakes.
Stars: Jim Mahoney, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Jon Bass, Sarunas J. Jackson, Shelley Hennig
Director: Alberto Belli
Running Length: 80 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Blessed are the films that are sold on name recognition alone. If you are arriving in theaters boasting a recognizable title that audiences are not just familiar with but anticipating, most of the work has already been done for you. All others need to labor at snagging the eyes of the crowd over their way by coming up with something creative, and it’s oh so very hard for movies like Gatlopp: Hell of a Game. I think the filmmakers will face a severe uphill battle with getting people to give this comedic twist on the supernatural gameboard movie based solely on that title. The pleasant news is that if they get enough viewers to give it a shot, good word of mouth could propel this nicely done, short/smart/sweet flick forward into greater notoriety.
At 80 minutes (including a lengthy credit sequence with a slow crawl and lots of backers to thank), there isn’t much time to spend with set-up, so we go almost directly into those handsome titles leading into the introduction of four friends toiling through their lives in California, none of them meeting their potential. Actor Troy (Sarunas J. Jackson, Chi-Raq) hasn’t found that big break, and entertainment executive Samantha (Emmy Raver-Lampman, Blacklight) hasn’t done much to help her friend. They join their stoner friend Cliff (Jon Bass, Molly’s Game) to console Paul (writer Jim Mahoney, Klaus, yes the animated charmer on Netflix), still reeling from a divorce.
Finding the kitschy board game Gatlopp in an acquired piece of furniture, Cliff convinces his friends to play it, but with one roll of the dice, they learn this is no ordinary game. With questions designed to reveal deep secrets oddly specific to them and tasks leading to quirky consequences that only get more tenuous as the night goes on, the four friends realize they are playing for their lives. The more they reveal and are honest with each other, the further into the game they go…but how far will their friendship last before it breaks apart?
For a movie curated within a pandemic production schedule, Gatlopp: Hell of a Game makes the most of its four leads, all of whom could easily have drifted into the obnoxious territory. Usually, the stoner character is the first one I’d like to see exit stage left, but Bass makes Cliff an endearing soul, and he works with the other three to convincingly bring their friendship to life. The lone female, Raver-Lampman, has seemed right on the verge of stardom for some time and her showing here only demonstrates again that it will be any day now that she breaks big. As the writer, Mahoney is a bit more invested in the character development of Paul. While the character gets adequate time to grow, it would have been nice to see more energy put into fleshing out Troy as better than just another wannabe actor. Not that Jackson doesn’t give it a go.
Director Alberto Belli keeps the action moving at a good pace (remember, we’re dealing with a movie that has roughly 70 minutes of material) and takes the pauses at the right time. It’s never going to be in the big leagues due to budget constraints, but in a way, Gatlopp: Hell of a Game benefits from the smaller production under which it was filmed. I could easily see future installments of the movie as the game travels around to different groups, but for its initial outing in Gatlopp: Hell of a Game, it’s an enjoyable bit of gameplay.