Posts Tagged ‘:Tetris:’

Taron Edgerton

“TETRIS” My rating: B  (Apple+)

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Capitalist opportunism goes nose-to-nose with Communist purity in “Tetris,” a based-on-fact comedy-thriller about the origins of what may very well be the world’s most ubiquitous video game. 

Spoiler: The Commies lose.

In Jon S. Baird’s diverting recreation of events, Taron Edgerton stars as Hank Rogers, a real-life video game developer and marketer who in the late ‘80s was introduced to Tetris, a computer game in which players had to manipulate falling geometric forms to create solid lines that generated points.  

Rogers realized the game was utterly addictive and foresaw a huge market.  Just a few problems.

Rights to the game in the West were, well, unclear.  Several companies claimed them, but apparently none had actually finalized a deal with the USSR, where the game was born.  The  Soviet state claimed ownership of every invention of any of its citizens, among them the genius behind the game, programmer Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov).

Noah Pink’s screenplay follows Hank Rogers as he travels to Moscow to buy Tetris from the government.  His quest is complicated because there are other Westerners bidding on the game, among them fly-by-nighter Robert Stein (Toby Jones), Brit media mogul Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam)  and Maxwell’s insufferable (think Donald Trump Jr.) son Kevin (Anthony Boyle).  

Things are no less frantic among the Russians.  The honest bureaucrat ostensibly in charge of negotiations (Oleg Stefan) is continually undermined by politicians and their KGB minions expecting the collapse of the Soviet state; they are determined to build their own nest eggs on the back of Tetris.

The film is at its best when Hank must rely on his instincts and wits to penetrate the quagmire of Soviet bureaucracy. (At one point Soviet premiere Mikhail Gorbachov steps in deus ex machine-style.) It’s less effective when dealing with his domestic situation (wife and kids who want Daddy back home).

Also noteworthy is the film’s mirroring of plot points in the Oscar-winning “Argo,” especially the notion of a Westerner on a dangerous mission in a totalitarian state and a last-minute escape on a commercial aircraft.

Despite its slow-building tension, “Tetris” is often drolly funny. But making the show irresistibly playful are the many nods to first-generation video gaming.  The film’s various chapters are introduced with the same chunky graphics that marked early ‘80s video games; at one point during a car chase through Moscow the vehicles begin pixellating and become cartoon versions of themselves.

Nothing earth-shaking here. Just a good time.

| Robert W. Butler

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