An age-old tale wrapped in cutting-edge technology provides the basis for “Nerve,” a teen film about an online game described as “truth or dare, minus the truth.” The game, called Nerve, allows a young wallflower, Vee (Emma Roberts), to tap her inner daredevil while making pretty good money for each stunt she pulls. As with so many things cyber, however, it’s too good to be true, and Vee will discover that this risky new game has its price.
The latest scientific advance is always ripe for a cautionary tale, be it automation (Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times”) or artificial intelligence (the Johnny Depp vehicle “Transcendence”), and the internet isn’t exempt. “Men, Women and Children” chided adults for not limiting their kids’ screen-time; “Unfriended” imagined how a ghost would haunt today’s Skype-connected teens. For its part, “Nerve” understands that whatever dangers lurk on the internet, it can be a heck of a lot of fun, too.
Based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan (the brightly-written script is by Jessica Sharzer), “Nerve” invents a reasonably plausible game in which dumb stunts — eating gross food, diving off a cliff — earn players money and, just as important, fame. The app is cool and all, but it’s the characters who make us care. There’s Sydney (Emily Meade), a sexy online showboater; Vee, the shy sidekick who ends up upstaging her friend; and Ian (the always appealing Dave Franco), a charming player who may not be telling the full truth. Miles Heizer plays Tommy, a nerdy Cassandra who turns out to be right. These are teen-film tropes as old as the genre itself, and they keep this tech-obsessed film grounded in the real world.
“Nerve” is directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, whose debut documentary, “Catfish,” was a true story about the perils of the internet. “Nerve” contains more than a little finger-wagging, but it also understands the magic the internet can hold: the promise of true love, school-wide popularity, a whole new you. Our heroine gets it all, only to find that it isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. No matter what new guise it comes in, that old lesson is always fun to learn.