Ready Player One ★★★½

Steven Spielberg, of all people, adapts Ernest Cline acclaimed Gen X nostalgia-fueled circle-jerk of stolen ideas, obvious pop culture callbacks and shop-worn tropes to tell the story of a pitiful future where everyone seemingly racks up debt to live their lives inside a gaudy neon computer hub where pop culture references and experiences replace human interaction and real-life responsibilities.

And because the story itself is completely-braindead and devoid of creativity, in lieu of thoughtful explorations on the dangers of technology addiction or instead of offering a counter-argument to the rampant promotion of fanboy fantasy fulfillment we see in media today, we get yet another warning about of the evils of corporate greed and how their unchecked power will lead to the subjugation of the human race.

Brought to you by Warner Brothers, a division of AT&T.

Ready Player One is two hours and twenty minutes of loud noise, obnoxious flash and relies not on a compelling, imaginative story but rather a record number pop culture references and direct cameos spanning the last forty years. All of which will make the 40-plus crowd squeal with glee while, most likely, leaving the under-25 set baffled and confused or, even worse, bored.

The characters are all one-dimensional, amounting to not much more than thinly-sketched tropes. There's the Reluctant Hero Destined for Greatness (Tye Sheridan), his Feisty Rebellious Love Interest (Olivia Cooke) and his Sidekicks Whose Colorful Online Avatars Hide Their Real World Insecurities.

Opposing them is the Obvious Corporate Douchebag, played by Hollywood's current favorite douchebag Ben Mendelsohn plus, this being 2018 and all, he's even got himself one of those handy little Exotic Henchwoman Assassins Whose Impressive Appearance Oversells Her Competence. Plus an army of slaves, who do little more than serve as cannon fodder.

And, because a movie so obviously-pandering to fanboys needs all the cred it can get, you get yet another pointless turn by the increasingly-overexposed Simon Pegg.

So...why did I give this three and a half stars? Since I seem to be shitting all over the finished product and, make no mistake, this is very much a corporate product.

Well, sadly, when dealing with a movie this creatively-threadbare and blissfully-ignorant of its inherent hypocrisy, there's only two ways to judge it. One is to break it down by its references...are the callbacks clever or, at the very least, are they amusing? Some of them are, yes. And a couple, particularly one involving a certain foul-mouthed killer doll, are somewhat inspired. Hell, I laughed out loud and applauded.

The second is to look at the performances and whether they bring any emotional resonance to them that the characters themselves lack. Surprisingly, again the answer is yes. Sheridan and Cooke are likeable, sympathetic and make a cute couple whether they're being mo-capped or actually acting opposite each other in the few real world scenes they share together.

Also effective in the real world scenes is Lena Waithe, who plays Sheridan's best friend and in-game muscle. Actually all of his "sidekicks" are distinctive and likeable which not many ensembles can say these days, sadly. Even Mendelsohn, for a douchebag, is amusing and well-cast as is Mark Rylance as the mysterious program creator everyone's in search of.

Steven Spielberg is the most commercial filmmaker in the history of film. Yes, he matured and lost some of his connection to audiences in the 90's and has struggled to reclaim it ever since. And while he doesn't quite achieve it here, he comes close and brings just enough humanity and heart to make this 140 minute mix-tape tolerable.

In a year of threadbare, half-assed or just poorly-produced pseudo event films, Ready Player One is the best released so far. Which, admittedly, isn't saying much...