In "Stay Alive," if you die in the video game, you die in real life.
This is a cool/potentially creepy idea only if, like, you're in high school and goofing around with your friends at the movie theater on a Friday (as many were during a recent matinee, which this critic had to attend because the film wasn't screened before opening).
For everyone else, this isn't just a preposterous premise for a horror movie, it's a source of unintentional hilarity.
"Somebody ran my brother down in a horse-drawn carriage!" yells goth-chick October (Sophia Bush), one of many characters with distractingly unusual names. Because, you know, that's what happened to her brother Phineus while he was playing the video game _ titled, appropriately enough, "Stay Alive."
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Meanwhile, "Malcolm in the Middle" star Frankie Muniz, slumming as a hyperactive gaming geek named Swink Sylvania, screams out as things get ugly, "Something's happening! Something bad!" and sounding as if he's paraphrasing a song from "West Side Story."
Recycling ideas from "The Lawnmower Man," the "Final Destination" movies, the third "Spy Kids" and "Tron," "Stay Alive," features an underground video game that a bunch of pretty teenagers feel compelled to play because it was the last thing one of their friends was doing before he died. A loving tribute, indeed.
The game has something to do with a Louisiana plantation-turned-finishing school, where a bunch of little girls were brutally killed and now scamper about as the undead. As the player, you have to track down and destroy the source of evil, some 17th century noblewoman known as The Blood Countess.
After sitting around talking trash and getting carpal tunnel syndrome, the gamers (including Jon Foster, Samaire Armstrong and Adam Goldberg, who's fallen far from "Saving Private Ryan") eventually realize that the characters on screen look just like them, and that "Stay Alive" is making them see and hear things even after they've stopped playing.
Then when they begin dropping one by one in exactly the manner they die on screen, they get even more freaked out.
But the effects in the movie from director William Brent Bell, who co-wrote the script with Matthew Peterman, look too jumpy and cheesy to make anyone in the audience seriously squirm.
It's enough to make last year's video game-inspired "Alone in the Dark," starring Tara Reid as a brilliant anthropologist, look better all the time.