"UNICORN CITY," — *** — Devin McGinn, Jaclyn Hales, Jon Gries; PG (language); in limited release
"Unicorn City" depicts gaming and gamers in a way that shatters stereotypes.
No knowledge of gaming is necessary to love the movie, which employs a nice universal humor, but many jokes may go unnoticed to those who've never thrown a D&D die or played a MMORPG. As for anyone who is or knows a gamer, the film is simply hilarious. But whichever party viewers fall into, it would be a herculean task to make it through five minutes of this film — any five minutes -- without laughing.
The story, written by brothers Bryan and Adrian Lefler, is about members of a role-playing gaming guild who are trying to achieve their dreams both in and out of their gaming lives, in part by taking the game away from the table.
Passionate gamer Voss (played by Devin McGinn) wants to get a job with a gaming company. Shy and awkward Marsha (Jaclyn Hales) loves Voss and, though the feeling seems unrequited, backs him on any campaign, whether on the table or in life. Shadow Hawk (Jon Gries, who will remind viewers of his role as Uncle Rico in "Napoleon Dynamite" with his performance here as another quasi-creep) likes having control over the game and, as much as possible, over the lives of those who play it. He also has a thing for Marsha.
Success is within reach for Voss when he gets an interview with gaming company Warlocks of the Beach, but he is told he needs to demonstrate leadership ability to have a chance at the position, which would require a move to Seattle.
Marsha doesn't want Voss to leave, but agrees to document his attempts to lead local gamers in a live-action role-playing camp he calls Unicorn City. The gamers arrive in full costume, and literally are their characters while there — bringing into play the film's tagline: "You are what you pretend to be."
The utopia faces challenges in remaining hidden from the public and the police, and fails to remain a secret from Shadow Hawk, who arrives without an invitation to disrupt the gamer utopia and steal Voss' thunder and, if possible, Marsha's affection.
Clever costuming, particularly for role-player Rhubarb the Centaur (Clint Vanderlinden), lends itself to some great gags. The adventures of Unicorn City and the variety of characters are quirky and entertaining.
McGinn and Gries are fun to watch as their characters attempt to undermine and overcome each other, but Hales steals the show as the lovesick Marsha attempting a variety of measures to build a more-than-friends-relationship with Voss.
Though it revolves around gamers, the story is one of ambition, love and decision-making as the characters pretend to be one thing while really becoming something more.
The film is rated PG for language, but parents should also be aware that two of the gamers demonstrate a lot of PDA, one of the role-players is a succubus (demon of seduction) who stays true to her character, Voss' older brother's horseplay gets a little rough at times and an older man hits on a young woman.
"Unicorn City," directed by Bryan Lefler, was very positively received at comic cons, won Best Feature Film at the Chicago Comedy Film Festival and was an Official Selection for the San Diego and Heartland film festivals.
"Unicorn City" is rated PG for language; running time: 96 minutes.