Taron Egerton stars in this entertaining but naggingly light retelling of the story of epochal computer game Tetris and its success in the west.
This new comedy-drama film inspired by the popular Gameboy thumbworm, Tetris, is not a digitally-animated family adventure about how a plucky gang of geometric blocks of various sizes/shapes voiced by 2nd-string SNL members can fit together into a single satisfying whole if they all just work towards a common goal.
It is, in fact, a poppy, ripped-from-Wiki legal procedural about how a canny American businessman was able to prize the highly-coveted Tetris IP from the clutches of the Russians, popularise the game throughout the world and foil a dastardly British business magnate in the process.
What a time for a film to come out about western commercial capitalism attempting to locate economic loopholes deep in the black heart of Soviet-era Russia. Taron Egerton plays Henk Rogers, a sharkskin-suited entrepreneur with a chubby era-defining moustache in the gaming world of the 1980s who’s on the prowl for the next big hit. Laying his eyes on Tetris at a gaming expo and snapping up dodgy commercial rights with a view to selling this peach to Nintendo, his life and company are thrown through a loop when he discovers that there are provisos in his contract, which means he needs to head back to the source.
Fair play to director Jon S Baird who does his best fancy footwork in trying to fun-up a story which, from all angles, appears to be a documentary trying to break out of fiction feature clothing. How to liven up a bunch of guys with big suits and bigger accents arguing in rooms over the minutiae of gaming rights? Add a bit of red terror intrigue, a pantomime villain, some menacing KGB apparatchiks, a double-dealing femme fatale and some glossy 8-bit visuals. Yet all that only takes thing so far.
The first half of the film verges on the unbearably smug, which feels apt considering Egerton’s character is a brash, ultra-confident wheeler-dealer willing to put the welfare of his family on the table as collateral for this mega-sized score. Roger Allam as Robert Maxwell and Anthony Boyle as his snivelling son Kevin score a big fat zero between them for dramatic nuance. Their cackling antagonists both feel like they’ve been drafted in from a cheapjack eighties genre film.
The film certainly passes the time and delivers on its remit in dramatising this strange and little-known case. But there’s no “why?” in Noah Pink’s procedural-focused script. As in, why tell this story now? There’s no real moral centre to the film – it’s a depth-free caper which only demonstrates negligible interest in any wider ramifications of these types of big money boardroom IP raids. It perhaps does eventually speak of the dying days of the Soviet Union and how the smokescreen of communism had all but given way to the filthy lucre of the west, but it’s all too little, too late.
Tetris arrives amid a rash of “The Story of Your Favourite Consumer Product” movies (cf Ben Affleck’s Air, the story of Air Jordans, and Matt Johnson’s Blackberry, the story of the button-heavy proto-smartphone), and on a level of basic audience empathy, it’s not that easy to get excited about seeing stories that are essentially all about the same thing: how a bunch of guys got really rich.
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Published 31 Mar 2023
Your fave late ’80s computer puzzler finally gets a movie.
Fairly standard boardroom runaround with some fun passages.
In the spirit of the game, fun in the moment, instantly forgettable.