Director: Andrew Bujalski
Release Date: January 21, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival)
Computer Chess follows a group of computer programmers, most of which come from ivy league schools, that gather at a highway hotel for a competition (in 1980) that will pit their chess programs against each other, culminating with a match between the reigning program and chess wiz Pat Henderson. Bujalski savors the pedestrian details of human interaction and often does it well, best evidenced in Mutual Appreciation (2005). With a goofy setup and a more straightforward attempt at comedy, I expected Computer Chess to be Bujalski`s most accessible film yet. Instead, Computer Chess is an indulgent, insular letdown.
I have to admire the film`s commitment to its concept, presenting the story as a faux-documentary shot in 4:3 black and white on PortaPak cameras from the '70s (and yet the audio is crystal clear.) With such a promising concept, there is a lot of wasted comedic potential. And yet, Bujalski`s script plays it straight, opening the film with a mind numbing group debate on the future of computer chess. There is humor to anti-social programmers who take their work seriously and never realize how silly their jargon sounds but that humor only goes so far.
Bujalski becomes as bored with the material as I did, going on psychedelic tangents throughout the film`s second half that lead nowhere. Bujalski made a film for himself. It`s a film I can respect but I can never enjoy nor imagine those who would.
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