Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Tetris is not your typical video game movie. Imagine if the Mortal Kombat film franchise weren’t martial arts fantasies but the true biographical story of how lawyers at Midway Games argued over contractual obligations. Now you can appreciate the perspective by which screenwriter Noah Pink (anthology TV series Genius) has approached this project. Ok, so I admit harnessing the addictive joy of a puzzle distraction like Tetris into a work of fiction would have been daunting, But wouldn’t massive blocks falling from the skies in some “Chicken Little” scenario be hilarious?

Tetris (the movie) concerns the transactions required to license and patent a piece of software created in the Soviet Union. The tension of the production depends on Cold War politics during the 1980s. There are a lot of obvious examples that thrillingly utilize this period as a backdrop: The Falcon and the Snowman, Red Dawn, and Wargames are immediately obvious. Think harder, and The Living Daylights, Spies Like Us, and Miracle also come to mind. Tetris is a far less exciting addition to that collection.

The plot revolves around a lot of people talking about business. William Shakespeare knew the value of a dramatis personae. A character list would help keep track of this extended cast of various names. Our hero of the piece is Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), a Dutch-born entrepreneur living and working in Tokyo. In 1988 he discovers Tetris at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and sets out to secure the rights to distribute the program. It was designed by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), who is prohibited by law from earning a personal profit while working for ELORG, a state-owned organization. Nevertheless, Rogers travels behind the Iron Curtain to meet with him.

Ah, but there are complications! Robert Stein (Toby Jones) is a rival executive at Andromeda Software that has already obtained the worldwide licensing rights to Tetris from Soviet corporation ELORG. Stein subsequently grants media tycoon Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and his son, Kevin Maxwell (Anthony Boyle), CEO of British video game company Mirrorsoft, the rights to publish Tetris in exchange for the royalties. In an apparent nod to inject at least one female into this boys club, the chronicle introduces a Russian interpreter named Sasha (Sofia Lebedeva) to assist Henk Rogers in communicating with the Soviets. This assemblage of names barely scratches the surface.

If the minutiae of legal issues surrounding the distribution and marketing of a video game sounds intriguing, then Tetris might fit together. Filmmaker Jon S. Baird is familiar with true stories. He previously directed the Laurel and Hardy biopic, Stan & Ollie. As an informative account, it’s competent. The atmosphere is injected with forced goofiness and pixilated animations to lighten the mood. This educational history lesson tries hard to be a zany comedy adventure. A lively soundtrack of 80s covers (Holding Out for a Hero, Heart of Glass) elevates the mood. However, a didactic tone ultimately takes over in this film that strangely feels like homework.

Tetris is available to watch at home exclusively on Apple TV+.


2 Responses to “Tetris”

  1. I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the title “Tetris”. It’s a video game so maybe a quirky comedy about it. No, like you said, a homework assignment. I will give it 3 ⭐️ for the semi-interesting history lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

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