Just when you think you’re beginning to claw your way out of the reasonless glut of reality exhibitions, along comes Games People Play to slap your hope in human integrity back down to the dirt. And how do you play this unnecessary game? Pluck off the streets of New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood six attractive, uninhibited contestants (three men, three women) willing to perform soap opera-esque skits and take their clothes off, sing in make-shift trios and take their clothes off, seduce delivery boys and take their clothes off. ... Oh, and they must be willing to flush every ounce of self-respect down the public reality sewer for a scanty drop in the pocket ($10,000 for the winner) and/or the possibility of momentary fame. It’s no surprise the show attracts the desperate, the disturbed — and actors.
This is a strange, tragic turn for writer-director James Ronald Whitney, a guy who has received respectable acclaim for Just, Melvin: Just Evil, a no-holds-barred bare-all documentary on the effects of Whitney’s abusive grandfather on himself and his family. By presenting this 90-minute pilot as a potential hourlong weekly extravaganza, he’s guilty of selling his talents short for a cheap shot at a television spot, just like his contestants.
The strength of Games comes from the questions it raises: Is tattooing absolute humiliation onto your life worth a little cash and a few seconds of fame? Is attracting the public eye with pointless behavior and your anatomy really valuable to people, or just a delusional, quick high? After you come back to reality, would you regret stripping over and over again in badly lit video or, worse yet, perceive it as the high point of your existence? Should actors be held accountable for the roles they choose to portray? I think Whitney thought he was being clever through extremes, but about the only thing that will shock the reality-saturated attention spans of today would be a show about people who decide to believe in themselves instead of looking for others to discover them at all costs. The trouble is, those very real people are the very ones that don’t show up for Reality auditions. Anyway, it’s too late to stop Whitney’s dastardly actions. He’s already working on a Hollywood version.
If reality is made up of truth without deceit, there’s nothing real about Games, unless you count really bad and really awful.
Opens Friday, April 23, for one week only, at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].