The holiday season of 2019 brought even more streaming content than usual, it seems.
Netflix gave us “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story”, a couple of bona fide awards contenders. Amazon Prime gave us “The Aeronauts” and “The Report”, which were some nicely mounted, if somewhat stodgy, historical dramas. Disney+ gave us a new “live-action” version of “Lady and the Tramp.”
It is easy in that crowd of content to have missed the fact that Wal-Mart’s own streaming service VUDU also released its first original movie “Adventure Force 5” in December. This film provides one of the greatest gifts of all: A reminder that Ernie Hudson is, in fact, still alive.
Yes, the erstwhile Winston Zeddmore is still alive and kicking at age 74. But watching “Adventure Force 5” does compel you to wonder just why he lent his talents to this particular project. Are his grandkids being held hostage by rogue Wal-Mart employees? Is he in Nicolas Cage levels of debt? Does this movie actually exist, or did I just dream it?
I am compelled to wonder these things because, quite frankly, they are more interesting to think about than the film itself, which is one of the sloppiest excuses for children’s entertainment I’ve seen in a while.
“Adventure Force 5” is the ultimate kid-empowerment fantasy: What if all the adults in your town suddenly disappeared and turned into zombies controlled through their cell phones?, it asks. Well, then it would be time to put your sweet video-gaming skills to the test and save the world, apparently.
The Adventure Force of the title are five kids in Kono Beach, a town that is presumably located in the United States or Canada or somewhere. The film never really sweats the small stuff like setting so why should we?
These kids – whose names I will not be able to recall even if you put a gun to my head- are forced to be the saviors of humanity when a rogue tech company employee (Dylan Arnold, sort of a poor man’s Adam Driver) unleashes an army of Terrabots (sort of like drones) on the unsuspecting town and also releases a mind-controlling signal that affects everyone with a cell phone.
If you think the film is working to a big “technology is evil” moral, that does seem to be the trajectory for a while. One of the kids even gives a monologue about the evils of technology.
“These tech companies don’t answer to anybody,” says the smart black kid on the team who I am going to call Urkel. “They take away our privacy, spy on us through phones, control us through social media. I mean, we’ve been their guinea pigs the whole time, and we just didn’t know it.”
A little heavy-handed, but the speech works – until you remember that humanity’s survival in this film is literally dependent on these kids’ ability to videogame. So the messaging is mixed, to say the least.
The production values in “Adventure Force 5” are a bit better than the made-for-TV movies that Walmart and Proctor and Gamble made in the early 2010’s, which isn’t saying a lot. The script is laughable and the acting is forced. Jamie-Lynn Sigler of “The Sopranos” has a cameo and, like Hudson, makes you wonder “How desperate is she for work these days?”
Every time the film gets close to an interesting plot point – For example, a member of the Adventure Force is an immigrant from Lebanon who is taunted by bullies with “Hey man, ain’t no ISIS allowed on campus.”- director Michael Younesi backs away from it as soon as possible.
I could go on about how this is the sort of film that features a kid shooting a painting of Joseph Stalin with a fart gun; how this is the sort of film where “Soda attack!!!” is an actual line of dialogue; and how this is the one project on actress Beth Littleford’s resume that manages to be more embarrassing than whatever the hell “Dog with a Blog” was.
Most infuriatingly, this is the sort of film with the gall to believe you would actually want to see a sequel.
At “Static & Screen”, we believe that movies can help people learn more about themselves and the world around them. But in order for viewers to thoughtfully engage with movies, the movies and their creators need to at least put in some effort to thoughtfully engage with the viewers. I am sorry to say the filmmakers of “Adventure Force 5” (rated TV-PG) didn’t put in that hard work.
Your kids deserve better than this. But, hey, Ernie Hudson is still alive. That’s not nothing.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.