Series 7: The Contenders (2001)
Director: Daniel Minahan
Starring: Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Marylouise Burke, Richard Venture, Michael Kaycheck
(out of 4)
Armed and Dangerous, at least until her water breaks
Series 7: The Contenders – no, it’s not the sordid tale of some investment broker getting his license, as one might believe from the title. Fox tried the whole i-banker thing with The Street to the expected disinterest. Series 7: The Contenders is a parody of sorts of the reality TV craze. Seven strangers are drafted via their government ID numbers, armed with guns, and told to kill each other. Last man “wins.” Well, the last man wins the right to take on a few more slices of Americana in the next episode of the show, to be exact.
Anyway, it’s got that “USA Network Studios” seal on the cover, so you know it’s going to be a high-quality, thoughtful flick. Moving on…
Series 7: The Contenders starts with a shot of the crazed pregnant chick (Brooke Smith) who’s been the, erm, survivor of the last few shows, as she offs someone in a convenience store; then it’s time to draft the contenders for the seventh iteration of this hit reality show. They’re introduced to us, and mostly are caricatures of some form, many with psycho family members as accessories to make the ridiculousness complete. The pregnant lady continues on, of course, and then we meet the teenage girl and her over-enthusiastic, go-getter parents; the ex-gay martyr with testicular cancer and his overprotective, jealous wife; the chain-smoking, devout Catholic old-maid nurse; some old dude in a trailer, and I’m vaguely recalling there may have been others who aren’t really fleshed out. I just watched the movie last night and I’m forgetting already.
They start out on the defensive — the old lady is shown boarding up her windows in a way altogether too reminiscent of those many hurricanes I’ve been putting up with this year (except she had a far too easy time of it; I don’t think she’d know a tap-con if it bit her in the ass), etc. — but eventually the killing commences. About halfway into the flick, it’s revealed that Testicular Cancer Guy (Glenn Fitzgerald) and Pregnant Woman had a bittersweet romance in high school; they even filmed a video for Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart in full goth regalia, which is shown in its entirety (this is the highlight of the flick, for sure). He knocked her up, she had an abortion, her family disowned her, and her life became the shambles it is today, but she still loves him. Awwww. At this point you should figure out these will be the final two characters, though the others are milling about for a bit more after this. One guy tries to escape the country by holding his kid hostage, and the teenager flips out on her parents as they cheer her on in her failed attempt to take out the old dude; another guy ends up paralyzed in the hospital where he’s finally taken out by the nurse, Angel of Death style, with a syringe of something.
In order to bring this crap to some kind of denouement, cancer boy attempts to kill himself with a concoction of pills, but his wife calls the cops and has him revived; preggo gives birth in a dramatically boring scene where the nurse (who eventually gets killed in the hospital) assists her, then the show takes the baby away. The final two eventually face off on a football field, where they pull guns on the cameramen (this scene rehashed the Joy Division tune — how touching!) and they attempt to run off together; the show encourages viewers to spot them and report them to the show. Eventually they take hostage a theater full of moviegoers and demand the return of the kid along with safe passage to the border (presumably Canada as they started the show in Connecticut, not that Canada would really want these freaks or anything). The ending of Series 7: The Contenders is shown as a “reenactment” – it’s up to you to decide how the hostage situation was truly resolved, if you still care by this point. For the less creative, an alternate ending on the DVD will spell it out for you.
A few scenes attempt to be clever, such as the one where the nurse attends confession and fails to mention the murders, yet blathers on about her impure thoughts about Monty Hall. There’s sufficient gore, but my attention wasn’t held rapt. Those who enjoy clever kills or smartass wisecracks will be similarly disappointed. The pseudo-government implications of the contestants being drafted aren’t really explored in the flick; you’re free to wonder about them at the end, but a few appearances by Big Brother could have made the movie more interesting. As a whole, you have to be the type who would watch a reality show in order to make it through the movie, yet that’s the exact kind of person this movie attempts to make fun of. Skip it, see or read The Running Man instead. Or, check out a low-budget flick called Slashers which parodies both reality TV and Japanese television craziness, and watch a group of contestants battle it out in one continuously filmed shot. I give Series 7: The Contenders 2 out of 4 stars: marginally more interesting than this year’s elections, but less so than getting to the bottom of my coffee cup.
Buy Series 7: The Contenders (Marathon Edition) on DVD