Series 7
The Contenders

Go girl. The show's website asks viewers to vote for reining champ Dawn (Smith).
dir-scr Daniel Minahan
with Brooke Smith, Glenn Fitzgerald, Marylouise Burke, Michael Kaycheck, Merritt Weaver, Richard Venture, Angelina Phillips, Alex Yershov, Nada Despotovich, Stephen Michael Rinaldi, Danton Stone, Will Arnett
release US 2.Mar.01; UK 1.Jun.01
USA Films
01/US 1h27

4 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
real people in real danger A vicious, witty parody of reality game shows, this film is so thoroughly entertaining that you almost miss the serious point it's making. Shot exactly like an American TV series--a cross between Cops and Survivor--the film is a marathon of the seventh series of The Contenders, in which contestants hunt each other down in a randomly selected American city. The last one alive is the winner. The reining champ is Dawn (Smith), nine months pregnant and utterly ruthless, although the fact that her hometown has been selected gives her pause for though. She hasn't been back in 15 years and left under a rather dark cloud. Her contenders this time around are a mild-mannered nurse (Burke), a deadbeat dad (Kaycheck), an 18-year-old girl (Weaver) with very pushy parents, a gun-toting retiree (Venture) and a young man (Fitzgerald) who's dying of cancer ... and who shared a high school romance with Dawn.

The sheer absurdity of seeing a full-term pregnant woman blasting her opponents into oblivion is both hilarious and horrific, and somehow the film manages to keep up both the comedy and suspense, as well as a surprisingly touching subplot. None of it takes itself even remotely seriously, which may put off viewers who do take these kinds of TV series very seriously indeed! But for the rest of us it's a sheer delight, poking fun at up-close-and-personal moments, those "very special" episodes and TV's manipulative methods. Writer-director Minahan and his cast perfectly capture the genre, complete with bombastic narration, crash cutting, forced cliffhangers and even a couple of dramatizations. The film works on several levels, both as an expose of the media, a grim examination of mortality and a gentle tale about facing up to past decisions. And the central dramatic storyline actually works as well, drawing us into it while keeping us off centre with the wacky humour and outlandish violence. Sure, it's all flip and a bit silly, but the really scary part is that it's not that hard to imagine a near future in which this kind of show could exist.
themes, violence, language cert 18 9.May.01

real people in real danger send your review to Shadows... R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

"Loved it, loved it, loved it. I was extremely fortunate to be able to see the world premiere of the film last January at the Sundance Film Festival in a packed 1400 seat auditorium. I got the bitterly comical yet scathingly serious point from the very beginning and had this goofy grin on my face from that point forward. If you have the slightest queasiness about gratuitous violence or disturbingly comical mayhem, then perhaps this is not the film for you. Director Minahan constructed this devilish delight years prior to the advent of publicly humilitating survival shows, but ironically missed beating them to the punch (pun intended) with the onslaught of their recent immense popularity. Okay I'm not a totally amoral being so I did feel some twinges of guilt at laughing as much as I did but it was just too funny. This relatively unknown cast pulls off an emsemble tour-de-force with this deliciously brutal dismemberment of our fascination with reality television. Please go see this film immediately or clamor loudly in the streets for a release at your local theater. USA Films has sat on this gem for too long." --Chris Clark, St Louis 25.May.01
2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall