Chess has a small chance of being considered “cool”, but when you combine that with computers, there’s not a single chance in hell it ever will be.
In the early days of the 1980’s where technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today, a local, weekend-long tournament is held in some seedy hotel in the middle of nowhere. The tournament itself consists of various people, from various teams that all have one objective: Have their computer beat out their competition’s computer in a classic, old-school game of chess. Seems all nice, civilized and friendly, but the tournament itself, who wins, loses and claims the big prize at the end isn’t what matters most. Rather, its the general-idea that everybody involved with this tournament either has no personal life to speak of, and find themselves actually communicating with one another, whether it be in a friendly or tension-fueled manner. But basically, we just watch as these contestants live their lives throughout this whole weekend where problems do arise, tensions-flare and most of all, computers do begin to crash.
To say that this movie already has a “niche” audience going for it, is already a pretty obvious statement. Not many people out there I can say will run to the fact that there’s not only a movie that takes place during the heydays of the 80’s in which the Soviets were still our biggest threat and the Pentagon was practically blamed for every folly made on behalf of this country, but also a movie that’s about a bunch of geeks who spend one, whole weekend at a hotel where they compete with their own computers in a games of chess. Now I don’t know about you, but chess isn’t quite my thing and although I am a big computer guy (DELL rocks!), I do have to say that this one wasn’t necessarily jumping out at me.
All right, hotshot! Calm it down over there!
But, like I usually do, I decided to give it a shot and see just what so many people were ranting and raving about in the first place. I mean, heck, it already has an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it can’t be all that shabby, right?
And well, thankfully, it wasn’t, although in the first half-hour, I could already tell that I may have picked the wrong movie. See, the odd aspect surrounding this movie is that you don’t quite know exactly what it’s trying to be. It begins with a dude, shooting some film with a hand-held camera handy, getting yelled out by some other, but older dude, and for a short while, the movie plays-out as if everything we’re seeing is actual, real footage cobbled together to make a full-length, documentary flick. Granted, I didn’t know if the events that I was about to see play-out on film were actual events happening right in front of my eyes, but I guessed it was just by how grainy the camera looked, and by how realistic everything felt.
By “realistic”, I mainly mean that everybody is so tired, so nerdy and so boring, that it wasn’t too hard for me to believe that what it was I was watching, was actually a real-life tournament that occurred during one weekend in the 1980’s. However, sooner than later, I began to get the feeling that there were beginning to be more and more shots taken, that couldn’t have been seen, unless there was a camera-man hanging around at all times. This is where I started to realize that this was a fictitious, narrative-flick with some documentary-elements sprinkled throughout, and as a result, this is also where the movie began to work for me.
You can tell that even though writer/director Andrew Bujalski himself may not be a full-fledged computer, and/or chess nerd-o-tron, he definitely appreciates each those kinds of people. He realizes that they are just like you or me: Smart, determined, hungry for victory and always looking to be happy and pleased with whatever it is that they’re doing. The only difference between most of us and them, is that the way they get their kicks is off of getting somebody in “check mate”. Don’t see much harm in that to begin with, and neither does Bujalski who, despite definitely throwing a couple of self-deprecating jokes these guys’ ways, never seems like he’s making fun of anyone here.
And even the peeps that he does make fun of and point a huge finger at, totally do deserve it. Why? Well, because some of these people in this movie are dicks. In fact, a better word would probably be “dorky dicks”. Bujalski doesn’t rely on commenting on the decade that was and therefore channeling the way we’re supposed to feel for a character, based solely on their appearance, but more on who they are when it comes time for competition and whether or not they love this “sport” of chess so much that they are willing to go to any and all lengths in order to be crowned “champion”. Of course there is plenty of other wacky hjinx that occur over this nearly-hour-and-a-half-movie that are funny and at times, completely and utterly random, but there is a heart to be found here, and it’s inside of each and every one of these characters that sometimes get that they are nerds that don’t have a single chance with the hottest lady around, nor do they aspire to be “the next Michael Jordan”.
She still wonders why every guy is scared of her at these things.
But then again, they don’t have to be and that’s all fine and dandy. They’re happy just being themselves, regardless of what other a-holes may say. And you know what? Good for them! Personally, I’m a checkers kind of guy, but I’ll fight in any of these dude’s corners, anytime! Just give me a call, guys!
Speaking of these “guys”, though most are unknowns to the common-eye, some are actually pretty good. Others on the other hand, are unknown for a reason and may just stay that way. If this movie has a central-figure to be found whatsoever, it’s this mega-dork named Peter, played by Patrick Riester, and is worthy of being the heart and soul of this movie as he keeps its priorities in-check, even when the movie itself seems to get a bit side-tracked by the random happenings that go on during this movie’s run-time. Though Peter himself can be pretty condescending, you get the feeling that he’s only like that as a self-defense mechanism and doesn’t usually get a chance to jump outside of his books and have a good time. That’s why when we begin to see him cut loose, start talking to the ladies and even take some chances in his life, it’s nice to see and will more than likely put a big ole’ smile on your face, as it did to mine. Also, the guy who plays the wise-cracking, loud-mouth known as Michael Papageorge here, is Myles Paige and I have to say, if there is anyone that may break-out from this movie at all, it’s him. The dude’s a scene-stealer and seems totally misplaced here. In a good way, that is.
Consensus: Definitely not for some out there, but for those who just want a small, calm, quiet and ordinary indie, then Computer Chess will most likely be the ticket as it has plenty of humor, heart and admiration for the demographic this movie was clearly made for and by.
7 / 10 = Rental!!
“Knew I shouldn’t have used my knight. Just knew it! So stupid, Marc! SO STUPID!!”
Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, Collider