Director Damien Lay tackles the ambitious genre of “WWI historical thriller” in his first narrative feature film, “Game of Aces.” Set in the Arabian desert with a predetermined storyline of historical context, unfortunately, the film is as vast as the characters in it, leaving much to be desired in terms of overall experience.
When we meet Captain Jackson Cove (Chris Klien), an American alcoholic pilot who has been grounded due to crashing too many planes, he is on a mission to save the life of the German Captain Josef von Zimmerman (Werner Daehn) who has also crashed a plane in the middle of the desert. Cove becomes upset after learning that he is not on this rescue mission alone; Joining him is a young English nurse and German translator Eleanor Morgan (Victoria Summer), whose perfectly glossed red lips and side-swept bangs make her look more like a movie starlet from the roaring 1920s than a down and dirty sidekick- which I don’t think was done intentionally. After the duo out-run a plane, dodge gunfire, and get over their initial quips with each other, they come to the aid of Zimmerman, which exposes a tangled web of corruption, lies, and the classic “who dunnit” question.
There are a few issues I had with this film and not just the low-quality sound effects that, for some reason, muted every other gunshot sound. “Game of Aces” wants to be a comedy, but just doesn’t nail it. Whether that’s due to the choppy edit, or the overall non-fluidity of the project, what we have here is a hum-drum film that is void of cohesive focus. Any wartime film is a high-risk movie to make due to the demanding accuracy and nature of the genre, and Lay seems to acknowledge this by having only three main characters. While a smart choice on the directorial front, as an audience member, having a limited number of characters stranded in the blazing desert, that can’t decide whether or not to make a joke or tell a thrilling story, makes it a tough, repetitive watch.
Chris Klein delivers “punny” one-liners in his signature gravelly voice many times throughout the film. His performance is actually preferred over Daehn’s delusional screaming, cartoonish guzzling of water, and overall act of losing his mind.
Despite the criticism, Damien Lay has managed to assemble a cast of genuinely engaging actors and create a film that feels distant from it’s limited $500,000 budget. However, it seems like the challenges it faced were too overpowering for “Game of Aces” to make it out of the Arabian desert alive.
“Game of Aces” is rated R for some violence and language. In select theaters Friday, September 2nd.