This review will probably make more sense if you've seen Live!, which, as we'll discuss (EDIT: briefly. Very briefly), is a highly unlikely possibility, so you'll just have to make do.
If I had better graphical skills (or indeed, a better graphics program), this would be in a circle like the "contestants" on the tv show within a film stand in (although honestly I don't know how anyone'd manage that). But I don't, so it isn't. A list will have to do.
Contestant #1... Eva Mendes!
It feels, oddly, that Eva Mendes has been around for years, and yet I'd be hard pressed to name more than about three films she's starred in (well, I would have been before looking at IMDb). But I have a lot of goodwill towards her after being so impressed by her turn in We Own the Night, the very underrated James Gray film from last year. So seeing she was not only the star but the executive producer (money=faith) of Live! induced me to go and see it despite having heard very little about it. We'll get to semantics later, but here's the basic premise: Eva is an ambitious tv exec who comes up with a reality show based on the "classic game" (yes, they actually say that) of Russian Roulette. Yes, six people stand in a circle and one of them is going to kill themself. As you can imagine, it all turns out very well indeed. You might question why Eva would put her money behind such a thing, but as a role you can't question her decision: she's tart, magnetic and astutely attuned to the differing facets of a role that, as written, could easily just be the bitch-extrodinaire. (So, no, the bullet in her chamber is a blank. Well done, Eva. You live to fight another day.)
Contestant #2... Robert de Vico!
The production design on this is actually quite stellar. As in, the studio where the tv show takes place- which is about the final third of the film- looks authentically 'American reality tv show'. That is, shiny metal, overdramatically dark lighting, geometric shapes. Minus points for Eva's ludicrously labyrithine house. (Robert de Vico is the production designer in case that wasn't clear. He also survives. Hurray!)
Contestant #3... Jay Hernandez!
Sometimes I happen upon an actor who's never been in anything particularly amazing, and has never truly convinced me of their amazing skill, and yet they worm their way into my head and sit there, chirruping at me to champion their cause. Jay Hernandez is one of those. Every time I see him in the cast list of a film, my heart does a little somersault. (Don't get too excited, this is a disturbingly regular occurance... many people occupy the little swinging ledge in the birdcage of my mind.) Anyway. Here Jay is one of the contestants, and he does a perfectly competent job, but I just don't get why he has to slum it in things like this. I guess he'll just have to keep chirruping. (And not get shot in the head.)
Contestant #4... Stephen Kazmierski!
I'm sure you're all saying "who the f**k is that?". Well, let me tell you, good people. Stephen Kazmierski is the cinematographer. Why is this important? Because the photography draws great attention itself by the story being a film within a film- not an unfamiliar concept, of course. But, although this is all done as a documentary (David Krumholtz plays the filmmaker who has 'randomly' decided to follow Eva around), it's not done in the grainy, shaky-cam style we've all come to associate with documentary (or faux-documentary, or 'realist') films. And therein lies the problem. It's all too glossy. Even this probably wouldn't be a problem if we didn't then run into the tv show itself... which looks exactly the same. Shiny and glossy. And when your supposed 'reality' is as fake as the reality show it's criticizing, you lose the force of your moral lesson. (Also there's some very shoddy editing. Pull your socks up people! If even I notice it you know you're in trouble. Kazmierski survives, but for a moment you thought it was all over.)
Contestant #5... Bill Guttentag!
I'm afraid it's all this man's fault. It's hard to avoid blaming him, really, since he wrote and directed it. Fair enough, who could make such a ridiculous premise believable... but why bother making a film of this in the first place if you're going to try and make a moral lesson out of something that seems ludicrous from the off? In the end what you get is a film that obviously thinks it's got it's audience squared- you do sweat and bite your nails as the contestants hold that gun to their head. But is that because you actually care or just because the idea of a shot ringing out is an always horrible one? Your moral lesson, Bill, doesn't work, because I would never watch this tv show. And (here is where I put too much faith in humanity) I doubt many others would either. But it doesn't matter anyway because no one would ever show it, and your entire film is pointless before it's even begun.
And you really did yourself in when you chickened out of showing us what could possibly have been the most interesting moral dilemma of the entire film. (So, yes, it's Bill that crumples to the floor, as the final contesant(s) weep(s) with relief...)
Contestant #6... Harvey/Bob Weinstein!
After Guttentag shot himself in the foot, it's no wonder the Weinsteins went running for the hills and left this film behind. C-