Games People Play: New York. Fire Island Films presents a film written and directed by James Ronald Whitney. Running time: 96 minutes. No MPAA rating (intended for adults; contains full nudity, sexual behavior and vulgar language). Starring Joshua Coleman, Sarah Smith, Scott Ryan, Dani Marco, David Maynard, Elisha Imani Wilson.

Games People Play: New York

There's very little real about most "reality" television shows. Anything in the course of the show can be affected by the producers' whims, and some have scenes completely recreated for dramatic effect. Even the most "pure" shows of the genre, such as Survivor, can be warped by the editors into whatever they want us to see. So how can we tell what's authentic and what isn't? We can't. That's the point.

James Ronald Whitney, the director of Games People Play: New York, understands this, and he has set out to exploit it. He shows us what is happening, what the contestants are saying and doing, but he leaves out the real details until the very end. The movie is a parlor trick, designed to play on our expectations, to toy with us. This has upset some people, who say they left the movie feeling uneasy about what they have seen. I did too, but that's how I knew it had worked as intended.

The film starts with Whitney talking to the camera, pitching the concept of a new reality show called Games People Play. He will take four contestants, two male and two female, from a pool of several hundered aspiring actors, and have them perform embarrassing and often explicit acts for points. At the end of the show, the actor with the most points wins $100,000.

The prize is a send-up on the often-times paltry amounts of money that reality television shows give away. The satire is especially sharp here, considering the competitions on display. They range from the simply embarassing - asking random people on the streets for urine samples - to the disturbing - seducing unwitting delivery boys and a send-up of the "casting couch."

Outside of an initial dread interest, these events aren't really all that important. The meat of the film comes from interviews with the cast. The four actors - Joshua Coleman, Sarah Smith, Scott Ryan, Dani Marco, David Maynard, and Elisha Imani Wilson - are interviewed by two judges (Dr. Gilda Carle and Jim Caruso). These interviews give away personal details about the people on the show. The stories and statements made are disturbing, unsettling, and often quite powerful. And not until the prize is given away do we know what exactly is going on.

When the truth is revealed, you will feel played. You should. The sex and rampant nudity of Games People Play: New York will go over well with the college audience it is targeting, but odds are they won't be paying close enough attention to get what is really going on. The reason the film works is not the titillation but the thought and the commentary on our society.

One thing that worries me is that Whitney has announced that he is planning Games People Play as a trilogy. But I'm not sure how that would work. Unless I'm overestimating what the film is supposed to do, and it really isn't anything more than glorified soft-core porn, I don't see how the next two installments (Hollywood and The Bible Belt - which, admittedly, should be interesting if for nothing more than the setting) could surprise us again, if even their existance isn't just part of the joke. But that doesn't mean I won't be watching them and hoping for the best.

© 2004 Matt Noller