Directed by Peter Lauer
What kid hasn't at one time or another thought about going inside a videogame? Level Up uses that very simple wish-fulfillment premise and finds a sardonic yet sincere enough tone to satisfy most of its teenage target audience. Serving as a not-quite feature-length pilot for a subsequent TV series on the Cartoon Network, it introduces a group of appealing characters and tells a fairly enjoyable standalone story, even as some red flags appear about how stale a show like this could potentially become. Three very different high-school students have no idea that, despite their conflicting social circles, they're anonymously enjoying each other's company online in a role-playing videogame called Conqueror of All Worlds. Wyatt (Gaelan Connell) is your quintessential nerd, especially awkward when around the object of his affections, Angie (Aimee Carrero). Dante (Connor Del Rio) is a social misfit with a wild streak. Lyle (Jessie Usher) is the popular quarterback on the football team forced to hide his gaming ways. When events that are scientifically unexplainable cause the videogame's bad guy, Maldark (George Faughnan), to be able to interact with the real world, the trio, with some help from Angie, must use their knowledge (and weapons) from the game to send him back to the digital realm. The script has some nice comic touches, including a bard from the game being transported to our reality, where he embarrassingly sings songs devoted solely to Wyatt's accomplishments. Even with effects that are on the cheap and cartoony side, some of the exhilaration of being able to interact with pixelated characters is realized, providing a few of the best moments. Another nice flourish is having the videogame's creator, Max Ross (Eric Andre), a rich and eccentric obsessive who's lost control of his creations, called on to help the cause. There are some forgivable gaps in logic throughout, though it's harder to overlook the fact that seeing the kids fight various baddies from the computer wears thin relatively quick. Ultimately, the inherent potential within the concept remains and veteran TV director Peter Lauer displays the same nimble skill that he's brought to shows like Arrested Development and Malcolm in the Middle. Also included on the disc is a bonus 22-minute episode of the program, which seems to answer the question of "What would this be like to watch on a regular basis?" with "Awfully redundant and stuffed with filler."
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