The pieces of this puzzle game mostly fit.
In the same weekend that “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” never succumbed to the game movie cliches in theaters, “Tetris” shows us the complications of bringing the puzzle video game Tetris on the international market. I’ve played neither games, but I can distinguish between a good video game movie and a bad video game movie.
“Tetris” often has scenes when scenes (like a fun car chase sequence) look like they’re traced over by video game block drawings, but it’s not a CGI video game movie. It’s a video game movie that’s about getting the rights to distribute it. This stuff may be way over my head (Blah Blah Blah Rights, Blah Blah Blah Money, Blah Blah Blah Greed), but not everything has to be as simple as it looks. This isn’t a movie about playing the game, it’s a movie about playing a bigger game.
Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) is the Dutch-American businessman-the founder of Bullet-Proof Software-who falls in love with Tetris, up to the point of him gambling his house on getting the game to sell in Japan, where he resides with his wife and kids. Of course there has to be the rule that the businessman is more interested in his work than his family at the moment. But also see Egerton wanting to channel on the ambition Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, and Andrew Garfield were possessing in “The Social Network.”
The game was designed by Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Yefremov), who lives in USSR, which isn’t the best place to be selling video games. And since Henk is ambitious to collaborate with the Game Boy device, he travels there, where is spied on and threatened by the KGB, who accuse him of being a threat. That’s where he and Alexey becomes friends who are willing to help each other. But that’s also when the Russian designer’s family is also at risk.
The rivals of the film also consist of businessman Robert Stein (Toby Jones), the head of Andromeda Software who finds cheap games in Eastern Europe and then sell them in the west. And there’s also the greedy billionaire tycoon Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and his bratty son Kevin (Anthony Boyle). In fact, this young CEO of Mirrorsoft makes people call him Mr. Maxwell, instead of Kevin.
Director Jon S. Baird (in his first entry since “Stan & Ollie”) and producer Matthew Vaughn both present “Tetris” with retro video games vibes that want to mimic “The Social Network” and maybe a little of “Argo,” if you count an airplane sequence. The writing by Noah Pink may not have fans comparing this movie to the game, but his work manages to combine the film’s genres. It’s about politics, rights, and greed, and seeing them merge makes my viewing quite challenging.
I’ve never heard of Henk Rogers, but Egerton does some good work in this role. And it’s also one that I probably wouldn’t have found in this young, stylish actor. Yefremov gives the most complex performance as not only the Tetris genius, but also a man trying to protect his family. Jones delivers some fresh moments. And Allam and Boyle are both professionals at playing unlikable people.
“Tetris” knows how to stylize “Holding Out for a Hero,” it knows how to entertain its target audience without catering to their needs, and it knows how this whole game works. I don’t follow on all the rules, but I still get the gist of it. In fact, it can be addicting, like the game itself.
Streaming on AppleTV+