LEVEL UP Review: Faustus McGreeves Invites You To A Suburban Game Of Assassins And Patriots For The Uninitiated
Writer, producer and director Faustus McGreeves’ second feature, Level Up, serves as the kind of niche film that’s more geared toward a small filmgoing audience. Gamers, comic book and anime aficionados who aren’t filmically critical will get a bit of a kick out of McGreeves’ latest humble effort in Level Up, which might be more than can be said for folks otherwise invested.
Kicking off with an air of political intrigue followed by a horde of goons chasing an agent with a mysterious package in the form of a nintendo game cartridge, the story eventually introduces Reid, a butcher who coaches basketball prodigy, Zeke (Reagan Hansen), on the side, and currently in the midst of a rough patch with violinist and wife, Harper. McGreeves makes a small appearance in the role of Reid’s neighbor, Randy, visibly troubled by something not so common or well-known.
Randy informs Reid that he’ll be going out of town and asks Reid to collect his mail while he’s gone. When Reid obliges, it’s not until long after when one day with Harper out jogging, he intercepts Randy’s mail and gets accosted by a phony mailman for the package’s reacquisition. Soon enough, a struggle ensues and a gang of hitmen descend unto Reid’s home with Reid barely escaping. With the package in hand, questions have only begin piling up just as Reid and Harper catch up and the two find themselves surrounded by agents.
Their harrowing adventure soon lands them in friend, video game and toy store owner Lenny (Kenny Williams) where they seek his counsel and, with the help of Lenny’s security guard, Milo, are guided to the home of a reclusive computer wizard named Viper who knows his way around his fair share of tech. After a brief fix, the truth begins to unravel for our ragtag trio with a video message elucidating an incoming domestic threat from an enemy far more dangerous than they’ve imagined.
Viewers might go as far as to appreciate the kind of overall creative bandwidth McGreeves exhibits in telling the story he does for, Level Up, which is currently circulating festivals and is selling exclusive DVDs to attendees and patrons. Apart from that, to give the tail end plot twist away in this review would be to undo the least bit of real potential enjoyment one might get from this latest inspired and independently-produced feat, I’m afraid.
Burns lends a feasible performance in the role of Reid, though for the most of the film, watching him and Oliver play husband and wife can be about as fun as watching two strangers at a bus stop trying to hug each other; Even as a supposed couple going through a dry spell, it’s hardly convincing. Actor Shatley provides a worthwhile villain in the role of gluttonous government assassin, Arlo (Shatley also serves as the production’s firearm wrangler).
McGreeves’ script assures audiences a few touches of comedy here and there to help carry the film forward, including one scene involving a pregnant woman. Jesse Milspaugh’s Milo gives us a doorbell gag, while Chelsea Wagoner graces with a karambit-wielding goth villain donning so many piercings that she needs her own subtitles when she speaks. Some third act comedy is a bit forced and leaves much to be desired.
Action scenes get just a little glimmer from time to time courtesy of fight choreographers Dean Truax and Justin Milani and their team, but with choreography that often comes across as out-of-character and tone at times, and sequences provenly too ambitious for its cast to perform without looking rehearsed, you can hardly say it holds a candle to similar films.
Save for the film’s shortcomings, McGreeves and his cast and crew clearly had some fun on this project, and needless to say, I hope it isn’t the last. However, as palatable as independent action cinema is and can still be in the face of big-budget spectacle and allure, it’s only as good as its director. Unintended puns notwithstanding, for Level Up, the film’s title alone should bode as a sign for the director to take note of on his next project.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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