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Overall Rating

Awesome: 34.55%
Worth A Look49.09%
Just Average: 14.55%
Pretty Crappy: 1.82%
Sucks: 0%

6 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Series 7: The Contenders
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by Isobel Sharp

"Surreality TV"
4 stars

The great thing about Reality TV is that it both so is and so isn't at the same time. It's as mundane and boring and stupid as real life, yet completely made up and packaged for consumption, like any good breakfast cereal. This movie has the chance to take this dichotomy, rip it apart, and make a scathingly good film about modern pop culture. It goes a little too much for the obvious shock over the subtle skewering to really pull this off, but has a few shining moments that make it worth watching.

What's more fun than real life? Real life with prizes! We've seen the phenomenon in shows like Survivor, where the prize is money (and of course, 15 regular-season episodes worth of fame); The Contenders takes it to what is arguably a logical conclusion. In order to win the game, you have to survive it, literally. In the format of a 'marathon' of the seventh season of The Contenders, the film gives us a short, intense look at what Reality TV could be, if only we all took one big step to the side of reality.

The show picks five people at random, using their 'government-assigned' numbers and a bunch of bouncing ping-pong balls, plus in this case the reigning champion Contender, to compete for the prize of getting to live. Our champion is Dawn (Brooke Smith, doing a fine job of playing a human being in an very inhuman situation), a very pregnant, very dedicated survivor of two previous series' of the show. Our introduction to Dawn is immediate, as we see her gun down presumably her last opponent on the previous series. She's clearly both willing and able to do whatever it takes to protect herself and her baby, and is the emotional hook that draws us in to the drama of it all.

Dawn's competition is made up of five newcomers: crazy Franklin (with possibly the most interesting line in the film), unemployed Tony (big talk, little action), Connie the nurse (definitely the dark horse, if we were betting on the outcome), Lindsay the teenager (with the overachieving parents), and terminal Jeff, who turns out, in a 'surprise' twist, to be an old friend of Dawn's. We get to know a little bit abut each of them, in the tried-and-true Reality method of the candid interview and constant surveillance. Clearly, however, the focus is on Jeff and Dawn, who have a history that complicates their status as contestants. Add to that Jeff's severe illness, and all the makings of a fine 'TV moment' fall into place. A very special episode of The Contenders is, of course, inevitable.

The acting in this film is unexceptional, which is a pretty great thing - they all come off as real people, just as self-absorbed, self-justifying, flawed and strangely intriguing as anyone actually on Reality TV. This is supported by the structure and filming, which is recognizable to anyone who watches the type of show this is meant to parody. Overall, the movie does an excellent job of setting us up in the familiar pattern of Reality TV, then pushing it all a bit farther. The question is, does it push it far enough? Okay, so they kill each other instead of vote them out of the tribe - interesting, but hardly revolutionary.

The real potential of this film is hinted at by Franklin's cry right before his demise - "The show is a fake!" Why, you bet it is, Franklin - it's a TV show after all, not real life, and so inherently made up. Directors pick and choose who to make the 'star', who to focus on, which shot selections to take, which scenes to place in juxtaposition - in short, the creators of the show do some real creating, not just recording. There's a lot more at stake here than just seeing how far you can push people and make it telegenic - there's a chance to examine exactly what it is that is done not only to the participant but to the viewer of 'real' life on television.

The last ten minutes or so of the movie start to explore this, when Dawn and Jeffrey hijack the show for their own purposes. Of course, the relentless machine of television isn't even slowed down by this - it carefully packages this revolution and sells it like the real thing, framing it and thereby taming it and making it safe. There's no way to get around the show that won't get shown on the show, and so completely neutralized. Far more creepy than the idea of people killing each other in a game show is the thought that even this 'shocking' display of reality might not be real at all, in any sense.

There's meat in this film; we see glimpses of the really good stuff in a few asides and some setups, as well as the last few minutes. Clearly, the choice of Jeff as contestant is no coincidence, and the fact that our 'hero' Dawn is never seen actually killing a contestant we've gotten to know may not be an accident. Bits like this shine through what otherwise is an interesting, but not revolutionary, look at our national obsession with Reality TV. Still, it's better than two hours of the Real World, no matter the series.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4878&reviewer=291
originally posted: 01/18/02 01:19:18
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User Comments

11/17/06 AJ Muller disturbing satire; definitely "gives the viewing public what they want to see" 4 stars
11/05/05 millersxing To the jaundiced eye, an irreversible trend toward SnuffTV emerges. Charming, never scary. 3 stars
11/20/04 Tawiah Craig It lookes so real that it was scary. 4 stars
12/14/03 delia johnson another good satire on reality tv, but not brutal enough. 4 stars
10/31/03 Nigel Fox A dark look at television gone mad, this parody of Fascist state is always right tv. 5 stars
1/28/03 graal Not close enough to what would really happen in this situation 3 stars
12/09/02 davebo Aside from the premise all it did was copy realitytv, not mock it 2 stars
7/27/02 sdjfsdkjf fucken crazy film. Lindsey getting beat up like that...not pretty. 5 stars
1/11/02 The Bomb 69 beautifully done, wicked funny with an awesome ending, should have explained rules better 5 stars
1/06/02 hum dark and clever 4 stars
12/28/01 Monday Morning Reality TV shows are fat targets and this gets damned close to the bulls-eye. 4 stars
10/30/01 mr. Pink A bit flawed in some parts, but still one of the best films Ive seen this year. 4 stars
6/10/01 Roxxy Where can I enter? 4 stars
6/06/01 Belinda This movie ROCKS. 5 stars
6/03/01 lee despite the violence, l liked the clever and dark wake up call for our tv culture 4 stars
5/30/01 Aiken Drum This is one fucked up movie, I loved it. 5 stars
3/18/01 Blubberbot I really wanted to give it 4.5 stars. This is a good film. 4 stars
3/06/01 Kiss My Grits People like Mike Krasienko shouldn't be allowed to post. Sing the films' praises or shut up 5 stars
3/04/01 Finity i liked it a lot 5 stars
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  02-Mar-2001 (R)


  31-May-2001 (MA)

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