After watching Cartoon Network’s original movie Level Up, I can’t tell if the hormonally imbalanced 12 year old inside of me was fulfilled, or finally killed himself.
Due mostly to an effectively intrusive marketing campaign by CN, (putting an ad on almost every youtube page,) I found myself unable to get Level Up out of my head. While this may seem like an excellent marketing strategy, in most scenarios this is where a lesser film would have died; as interesting instant message fodder- much like a similar youtube ad assault done a few months ago to a movie I really wanted to see, but quickly forgot about (and currently cannot remember the title of, to further illustrate my point). Yet somewhere after discussing this brain-damaged love child between High School Musical and World of Warcraft, I discovered something really special:
the trailer that had gotten itself wedged deeper into my skull than any terrible pop song could have, the trailer I couldn’t stop talking about, wasn’t the real trailer. The real trailer was a poorly thought-out, slow-loading masterpiece which took over my entire screen; where after a brief voice-over, an unintimidatingly obese troll jumped out of the video box and began to devour youtube. Four young, unthreatening heroes then appeared, launched an unbelievably slow moving rocket and saved the entire Internet from the poorly rendered ass-scratching hob-goblin. I was shocked that so much effort had gone into a made for T.V. film, let alone a Cartoon Network original. After seeing this, I could no longer justify missing Level Up.
So I did what any other self-disrespecting male in his mid-twenties would do: I arranged a Level Up viewing party, complete with wine and delicious pastries. I have to admit, I was nervous the film wouldn’t live up to its trailer. Something so bad in small doses is always tolerable, and in fact, usually enjoyable. But Level Up somehow managed to keep me entertained throughout its entirety. It could be argued that the unabashed heckling and the multiple bottles of wine helped, but I would have to say there was something else there, something beautiful and magic.
It’s an uncomplicated premise; a large laser goes haywire, initiating some Rube Goldberg style reaction involving a soviet satellite, a series of internet servers, and the blogosphere. Somewhere in this transaction an evil force is awoken from inside a more embarrassing form of WoW, giving it the powers to interact with the real world.
3 pop-culture knockoffs Wyatt, played by Gaelan Connell (Shia Le Boufe,) Dante, played by Connor Del Rio (Andy Dick?) and Lyle, played by Jessie Usher (Usher) are high-school mortal enemies. Unbeknownst to them, they have anonymously become close allies through their in-game surrogates. The three discover this unexplainable internet rift and their true identities when a fat troll escapes and begins to wreak mild irritations across the forest surrounding their town. There’s even some chick who pops in later, Angie, played by Aimee Carrero (Selena Gomez). What ensues is some micro budget Tron-esque fun, (summarized perfectly by “They go into the computer and stuff comes out of the computer”) where in the end everyone learns to appreciate themselves and others, regardless of whether you’re popular, or a nerd. Hell, Barack Obama even makes an appearance as the Mayor Hugginson, played by Geoffrey D. Williams. And that’s about it. I have no idea what the evil plot was, or how a butt shaped Alan Rickman knockoff could have possibly taken over the world (with no army, goblins, or really anything for that matter,) but it was all convincing enough to move the plot along (somewhat) smoothly.
Yet what really makes Level Up worthwhile is the complete lack of concern the writers seemed to have about shaping the Level Up universe into a believable realm. The characters threw around “cheat code” like it was some sort of early 90’s game-shark whore, and their periodic exclamations of “EXPANSION PACK” made me initially think the writers had never actually even seen a video game. Our viewing party favorite was a spell used by the sorcerer that was cast by shouting “Meshugganah Caliente!” Doesn’t that mean “Hot Crazy?” in spano-yiddish? I think it does.
In the end, Level Up is a brainless loaf of fun that, after you shove it down your throat, leaves you feeling confused, but we’re going to be laughing about it for weeks.
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