In Hero Mode, the gaming company Playfield, owned by Kate Mayfield (Mira Sorvino), finds itself in an untenable situation. The next game they release must be a resounding success, or Playfield will go under. A potential investor bails after discovering Playfield’s latest effort is buggy and crashes often. Left with no other choice, Kate entrusts her teenage son, Troy (Chris Carpenter), who is a brilliant coder, with heading development on the title.
However, Troy realizes the game is not nearly good enough and devises a whole new idea. But this fantasy RPG puts all the other employees at Playfield into overdrive, as now everything must be made from scratch. As good as Troy is at coding, he does not do the whole teamwork thing very well, alienating everyone else, including his friends Nick (Philip Solomon) and Paige (Indiana Massara). Will this tension ruin the game, or does Playfield pull it together and succeed?
That last sentence might seem a bit silly as Hero Mode is clearly a family comedy, one where the lessons are broad, the jokes even more so, and the character arcs are straightforward. But writer Jeff Carpenter offers up a sweet tale with enough funny punchlines to keep everyone amused for 90 minutes. There are some odd issues with the machinations of the plot (that is absolutely not how computer viruses spread) that are hard to entirely get past, but if a viewer can overlook such holes, they’ll have fun.
“The next game they release must be a resounding success, or Playfield will go under.”
This is because, even though they are uncomplicated, all the characters are likable and engaging. For example, Troy takes time out of his busy workload to build a specialized app to help Paige’s stage fright. Also, his trance-like state while coding excellently sets up his joy while writing all those lines. Nick and Paige are fun, while the Playfield employees all have distinct personalities and are easy to root for. A lot of the charm of these people stems from the actors, who know the kind of film they are in and play into the goofier elements well. Special note should be made of Sean Astin’s performance as Jimmy, as he plays a tightwad very well, and every joke he has lands perfectly.
But the real secret to the success of Hero Mode is the stylish direction by A.J. Tesler. Scenes are punctuated with video game elements, such as the brick blocks from Mario Bros., or transitions use footage from the games they are working on. It is a nice way of making the movie more visually interesting than the typical family comedy. When Troy explains to Paige how his trance-like state works, the walls of the set giveaway to show his mom and deceased father dancing then segues into a choir for Paige to belt out a tone. It is exhilarating, adding a kinetic sense of momentum to the proceedings, which really gives the stakes some much-needed oomph.
Hero Mode might make some adult viewers roll their eyes or just groan with its misunderstanding of technology. But the screenplay offers up some genuine laughs along with a general sweetness making it great for viewers of all ages. The game cast makes the characters easy to root while the direction is energetic and stylish. All in all, while it has a few flaws, families will get a lot of sitting on the couch and watching this film together.
"…more visually interesting than the typical family comedy."