Nerve **1/2

More entertaining than it has any right to be, this movie has the “nerve” to still fall short.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“What did I just watch?” My friend asked as the house lights came up at our screening of “Nerve,” the new teen friendly, um, thriller? Comedy? Romance? Social Commentary? I don’t know what to call it, so his is a fair question. Truth is, “Nerve” is all of those things, so maybe a better title would have been “etc.” Bad news is that it bites off more than it can chew and doesn’t fulfill the demands of the genres it tackles. Good news is that the movie still manages to be a fun ride, for its first two acts, at least.

Emma Roberts stars as Vee, a senior in high school and a bit of a wallflower until she’s introduced to an online game called “NERVE.” It’s basically an escalated version of “Truth or Dare” that involves players and watchers. Players film themselves as they perform escalating dares devised by the watchers for a cash amount. Vee, in an attempt to break out of her shell, becomes a player and finds herself on an initially fun but increasingly dangerous adventure with another mysterious player and potential love interest, Ian (Dave Franco). 

A good movie about teenagers makes you feel like one again. A great teen movie makes you feel like one, but makes you glad those years are behind you. “Nerve” is not a great movie, teen or otherwise, but it has enough positives to deserve a (mild) recommendation. Oh, and yes, it made me feel like a teen for 90 minutes.

I have to admit something. I like “one crazy night” movies, whose adventures usually take place in the city and always over the course of one night. These movies can be comedic, like “Adventures in Babysitting,” lightly dramatic like “Before Sunrise,” or action-centric like “The Purge: Anarchy” and “Judgment Night.” “Nerve” is an overnight adventure movie, and because of that it, it basically had me at hello. 

But there are other, more concrete reasons I enjoyed the movie. The adventure is helped immensely by the film’s cinematography. Yes, because the online world is such a big part of the plot, we do have to deal with more than a few grainy, shaky, low resolution cell phone shots, otherwise it has an appealing neon drenched, rain soaked, and slightly sleazy look to it, which enhances the film’s many New York locations.

Also helping propel the movie along are winning performances by the two lead actors. Despite an off screen reputation, Emma Roberts is dependably engaging, and that is no different here. She is an appealing heroine. And Dave Franco, too, is an affable hero. Not sure how he gets away with it since he sounds like a squirrel on a helium bender, but he is thoroughly likable and the two actors together have a palpable screen chemistry, which definitely helps sell the romantic side of the film’s many faces.

Sadly, as hinted to earlier, “Nerve” has its fair share of flaws. In trying to be all things at once, it never quite excels at any one thing. It wants to be a fun/romance adventure (luckily, it does pull this aspect off the best), but it also wants to be a dark thriller, though not too dark, a teen comedy/drama, and, to top it all off, a social commentary on our need to be watched and loved by the faceless masses.

All of this devolves into an overly serious third act that involves conspiracies, hacking even more absurd than in “Independence Day,” and guns. To call it ridiculous might be too harsh as the whole movie is silly from beginning to end. But the first two acts are affably silly while the finale just descends into overblown foolishness.

Although this movie is aimed directly at teens, I think it will be best enjoyed by tweens. Lacking gruesome violence, truly strong language, but with a little helping of nudity (a quick derriere early on) and some adult themes, “Nerve” is a perfect way for pre-teens to dip their toes into something a little edgier and adult than what they’re used to. For the rest of us, there’s really not much here except for a breezy whatchamacallit. But I enjoyed more than half of the movie and was never bored. And that’s something, right?

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