That stunt training as a prerequisite for folks keen on drama shouldn’t be an absolute. This, of course, is an exemplary caveat for anyone willing to partake in entertainment who loves performing dynamic feats in some form or another – be it for a live audience or on camera.
Actress Cassandra Ebner has all the tools she needs in this regard, having equipped and surrounded herself with just the right ingredients for Life XP, her latest shared venture with career stunt performer and filmmaker Trevor Addie who previously helmed stellar 2013 short, Croft, based on the Tomb Raider games.
Created by Ebner, she plays Angela, a basketcase who masks her antisociability in her love of books at the bookstore where she works for her mother (Enid-Raye Adams). After slacking on the job, she is summarily fired and soon panicked over likely being kicked out despite paying rent.
When her best friend Steph (Lindsay Navarro) helps her sift through a last minute job search and finds an ad looking for video game beta testers, non-gaming Angela is immediately thrust into a virtual world of weekly games she must play to increase her strength, viability and experience.
Her newfound purpose in the game ignites a desire to redeem herself from real-life zero to the hero of her own story, but the game starts to have a negative impact on her life. Soon, she’ll be forced to make a choice when fellow player Kaz (Giovanni Mocibob) lands in peril.
The markedly noteworthy production quality and cast performance overall speak heavily to the ambitious vision Ebner, Addie and their team had in mind for Life XP. Overall scope and set design do terrific justice for what the series has to offer on top of our cast, led by Ebner who brings a feat to the table usually overlooked by studio-level decision makers; It’s not everyday that consumers are treated with a versatile piece of work in which the lead actress comes a more than ample list of qualifications.
Ebner’s Angela is near-total recluse who has never played a game before. Life XP has become only the second closest thing she loves next to her mom’s bookstore which has been in her family for quite sometime. She’s not the most physically active either, so when it comes time to learn how to fight, when she’s not putting holds in her walls or going to town on fellow players, she’s ultimately respawning and trying again, and because she’s contractually bound for a month, she has no choice, really.
As things stand, Angela is also in for a surprise when she learns all her gaming activity has been livestreamed, making her a quasi-celebrity. Further adding to her growing pile of woes in both realities is the prospect of disappointing her mother who is indisputably against technology, and is also suffering from the financial pressure of potentially losing the bookstore for good.
Things do feel a bit left in the air by the end amidst some of the conflict between Angela and a few other characters, but it doesn’t take much away from the story as it’s delivered. It’s smartly written and leaves plenty to maintain interest without dissuading the viewer from observing Angela’s story.
Life XP preserves itself with a well-paced story and a diverse and colorful set of off-beat and oddball characters to keep the engine running. This especially goes for Annabelle Loi who plays Cleophay a rival badass in the game opposite Angela. The only other people who love Cleophay other than her small entourage is…well, every other player in the game, including Angela.
The only other thing viewers may enjoy more other than Ebner’s stand-out performance and gravitas as a screen actress and multihyphenate with all the goods, is the action. Some of the visuals are what you would likely expect from an autonomously-produced and modestly-backed series like Life XP. The important part here is that it doesn’t take away from the slapstick-heavy action apart from its epic pilot episode into.
Angela’s evolution into a fighter occurs with hilarity and wonder in real time. She’s Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher on SNL without the over-the-top eccentricities; instead, she deals heavily on multiple battlefields – dodging enemy grenades while healing fellow players, getting thrown around by brooding and burly cowboys, and trading fisticuffs superpowered freaks of numerous kinds, and all between respawns.
Life XP has all the trimmings of a fun-filled and fantastic series. Actress Ebner and director Addie have more than payed their dues at this point, and are prime to deliver something wholly exciting and viable for global markets if the right people come aboard. For this, it’s a fair play to itstate with regard to their latest respective and award-winning career achievements with Life XP that…well, these two ain’t playin’.