Gatlopp: Hell of a Game

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Writer: Jim Mahoney

Director: Alberto Belli

The title sequence of Gatlopp is promising. A board game comes to life, tiny pieces trundling purposefully around, dodging the obstacles which keep popping up all round them. The music suggests fun and adventure with a whiff of evil. Will this comedy horror film deliver?

We’re quickly introduced to the main characters with a natty sequence of polaroid stills. They’re four old friends. Cliff, the kooky one, scores drugs while negotiating for a futon for his friend Paul who, mid-divorce, is moving in. Paul himself wrecks the sale of his marital home by bursting out of the front door (one of the film’s few jump scares), terrifying the hopeful young buyers with his cynical ranting. Then there’s Sam, a cliché of a hot shot film producer in a fancy car, and finally Troy, her ex, an unsuccessful actor, despondently picking up his dry cleaning. Cliff invites them round to forget their troubles with an evening of getting wasted.

Then comes a hoary old plot device. Freaky Friday’s fortune cookie led the way to a comic masterpiece. Here Cliff discovers a strange sounding board game. It’s no spoiler to say that Gatlopp, this game, is going to turn their lives upside down. Should we be buckling up for a bumpy ride?

The board game is evil. It seems to know the darkest secrets of each player. Each of its card is spookily addressed to a particular contestant, and it can conjure up nasty forfeits if anyone lies. Then there’s the time pressure: if they don’t finish the game by dawn, the four are doomed to play out the game for eternity.

The writer’s problem is how to fill up the time between the set-up and the denouement with sufficiently imaginative funny-but-improving surprises delivered by the board game. There are some entertaining moments. A nice one is when Paul sees a figure outside in the dark, who disappears whenever the window is opened. His response? –  ‘The windows don’t work any more’. Then there is a mildly amusing body swap sequence when Sam and Troy turn into each other, with likeable performances by Emmy Raver-Lampman and Sarunas J. Jackson.

But by and large it all lacks imagination. There’s a distinctly laboured segment when all four are sent back in time to perform a live Jazzercise class. Jon Bass is naturally funny, but his part as Cliff is underwritten, so he never gets to fully demonstrate this.

Writer Jim Mahoney plays Paul, giving him the best comic lines. But Mahoney sets a key moment too early on, sending Paul to hell mid-way through the film. This makes subsequent ideas hard to match. Having said that, Paul’s descent to hell is distinctly low budget. We don’t actually follow him there – just see him afterwards looking singed.

Gatlopp follows the comic masterpiece par excellence, Groundhog Day, by working towards the redemption of all the characters. So a series of flashbacks allows Paul to re-evaluate his marriage and we can probably guess what will happen to Troy and Sam.

On top of everything else, there are too many careless mistakes and loose ends. Maybe dawn comes late in LA, but they seem to be still playing in broad daylight with no sign of an eternal curse. The elderly neighbour, woken by their noisy party at the start of the film is forgotten. And indeed the original apartment, accessible only through a door on a corridor, now seems to have been remodelled with an external front door, mainly so that the pizza delivery joke works. All in all, Gatlopp is too laboured to be really funny.

Signature Films and Signature Entertainment presents Gatlopp: Hell of a Game on Digital Platforms on 27 June.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Laboured comedy

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The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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