Originally published on So So Gay on 8 September 2014.
Some time in the near future, terminally ill multimillionaire Steve Battier (Rutger Hauer) is desperate to reclaim his youth. With money no object, Battier approaches RPG, a biotechnological company that claims to be able to transfer a consciousness into a younger brain; though to do so he, along with nine other aging multimillionaires, must enter an extreme 10-hour game. Confronted with holographic reminders of their present day bodies, the revitalised group are informed about the rules of the game and must decide how far they will go to retain the prize of eternal youth.
RPG: Real Playing Game is a low-budget Portuguese film (though in the English language) directed by Tino Navarro and David Rebordão that starts off promisingly enough. The obvious selling point of Rutger Hauer will draw many in, and with its opening sequences very much a throwback to the sights and sounds of the classic sci-fi films of the ’80s, RPG certainly starts strongly. Unfortunately, once Battier signs a chunk of his life-savings away to the swanky but suspicious business run by Mr Chan (Chris Tashima) and we enter the lethal virtual reality contest, the quality soon tails off.
Having a lower budget doesn’t have to equate to a lower quality film, it’s just knowing how to make those dollars count and also place emphasis on the elements that don’t cost – or at the very least cost a lot less. It obviously can’t compete on the special effects front with a massive Hollywood blockbuster, but these really aren’t part of the problem with RPG. In fact, the effects are more than serviceable and the Tron/Blade Runner-esque vibe of the early scenes with Hauer are very pleasing.
RPG is clearly tapping into the popularity and themes of The Hunger Games franchise, but instead of focusing on trying to say something slightly different with a tight and more intelligent script, with interesting twists and turns, it falls back on to some mild titillation and fairly two-dimensional characters. At one point, a plot twist occurs that looks set to take things in an interesting direction, but is completely nullified mere moments later. What’s even worse is that the slightly flimsy script is delivered by some ropey or, to be generous, some mixed acting ability. As the characters start getting bumped off, it’s surprising to find some of the weaker talents on display surviving longest, making the film that bit more of a struggle to watch.
This film is by no means unwatchable, but this is mainly thanks to a cinematic gloss and its Ten Little Indians style plot, as there’s always an element of curiosity to see who survives these kinds of films, if nothing else. The potential of this film to focus on saying something interesting about personal reinvention/reincarnation and maybe even the concepts of gender/transgender issues – the characters in the film aren’t required to select the same gender, let alone the same race, for the new versions of themselves – is instead pissed away on vacuous sexual encounters between unlikable and/or uninteresting characters, brought to relative live by an uneven cast.