It’s a good thing a movie doesn’t have to make a whole lot of sense to be entertaining, because the wacky new cyber-thriller Nerve starts out as “improbable and unlikely,” before stepping on the gas pedal and barreling all the way to “outlandish and ludicrous,” without ever slowing down to apologize for its insanity. How much you enjoy the flick will depend on your ability to accept its disregard for logic, reality, technology, and the laws of physics, but if you’re willing to dig its lunacy, there’s definitely some fun to be had here.
Sort of a teen-friendly combination of Crank, The Game, Unfriended, The Running Man, and the highly underappreciated indie gut-punch Cheap Thrills, Nerve is about a high-tech internet game in which average Joes and Janes agree to do all sorts of crazy “dares” in return for an escalating series of bank deposits. On one side you have the “watchers,” who pay to watch total strangers kiss, punch, and shoplift their way across New York City–and on the other side you’ll find the “players,” of course, who receive endless instructions through their cell phones while pulling crazy stunts as random “watchers” record the action on their phones.
Oh, and also the contestants have to record everything with their phones, too. The rules are pretty sketchy, truth be told, and nobody ever seems to worry about their phones needing a recharge, which is truly bizarre. But I digress. The movie is full of massive plot holes and head-scratchers, but if you’re having fun, it doesn’t really matter. Co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3) seem well aware of how outrageous their premise is, so they (almost) never slow down long enough for a viewer to start asking questions. The screenplay (by Jessica Scharzer, from a novel by Jeanne Ryan) just keeps throwing obstacles at our central duo, which means you’ll probably have to save your “But wait, how did they…?” questions for the drive home.
Our heroine is an introverted but plainly lovely teenage girl called Vee, who finds herself embroiled in a night full of Nerve-inspired insanity as she bounces from dare (“kiss a stranger”) to bigger dare (“try on a $4,000 dress”) with the help of a mysterious but seemingly trustworthy contestant called Ian. Together the couple takes directions from an endless array of hipsters, millennials, and what seems to be a whole bunch of Hot Topic sales clerks. Needless to say, things go from harmless fun (“drive into the city”) to dangerous stupidity (“drive a motorcycle blindfolded”) in short order, and that’s when Nerve starts to throw all sorts of twists, turns, and frankly absurd plot machinations at the screen.
Fortunately our guides through this night of hazardous silliness are a charming pair indeed. Dave Franco, generally known for broad, silly comedy, is quite good as the sneaky-yet-loyal anti-hero, and Emma Roberts matches her co-star with a nice combination of sweetness and reluctant rebelliousness that helps ground even the wackiest of the film’s setpiece–not to mention a third act that stretches credibility to its breaking point. Nerve struggles to maintain its energetic pacing as it rambles through a handful of subplots–Vee has a very competitive best friend, a hacker pal who is madly in love with her, and a mom who has no real bearing on the plot whatsoever- but when it focuses on Roberts and Franco, which is often, the crazy movie coasts by on personality and audacity.
3 out of 5 burritos we dare you to eat for nine bucks