Tetris (2023)

That’s the thing about this trend with movies based around telling the story of these milestone products: We either get a movie that should just cut the middle man and be a documentary (“Air”), or we get something so completely sensationalized/fabricated that it’s not even really worth watching anymore (“Flamin’ Hot”). With director Jon S. Baird’s “Tetris” I tuned in to see a movie about the creation and acquisition of the iconic video game. Instead what I got was a pretty vanilla espionage thriller about the KGB, spies, terrorists, politics, and warring companies fighting over contracts and whatnot. Exciting…

In 1988, businessman and struggling game developer Henk Rogers and Tetris inventor Alexey Pajitnov join forces in the USSR, risking it all to bring Tetris to the masses. Henk soon risks everything in a race to outmaneuver duplicitous insiders to negotiate a deal with Soviet Union bureaucrats for the international licensing rights to what would eventually become one of the most recognizable and widely played games in history.

“Tetris” is not a terrible film, it just adds such a gloss over what really happened during the creation of “Tetris” that it’s not even really a true story anymore. It’s just a true story that was run through a Hollywood filter. That’s, again, not always a bad thing but “Tetris” runs out of steam after the first half hour and then just seems to run on auto drive the entire time. Taron Edgerton really is what keeps the movie afloat giving an enthusiastic turn as Henk Rogers, a man who has everything to lose after investing in “Tetris.” The movie follows pretty much the same beats as the other product oriented biopics, with a normal businessman discovering a potential new boom in his industry, putting everything on the line to buy it, and then the rest is history.

Or history as Hollywood would like us to see it. Like the previous films about products, “Tetris” would work so much better as an unflinching look in to the creation and development of “Tetris” and how much it influenced the world. It did trick millions of people in to investing a ton of time in to a game about mathematics and basic shapes, after all. It’s a fun little bit of irony. But after Henk spends his time literally dumping a ton of exposition and info on the audience in the first ten minutes, the movie then takes a sharp turn in to dramatic territory. Quickly—almost abruptly, Jon S. Baird’s film becomes a high stakes game about politics and America, Japan, and Russia engaging in an intense war involving territory, money, and bragging rights.

Everything falls in to place as Henk is depicted as a humble businessman, “Tetris” creator Alexy Pajitnov is depicted as the every man, and there is the oh so reliable evil corporate CEO’s anxious to make money while swindling everyone else. Jon S. Baird does a reliable job with his direction of the film, offering a very briskly paced dramatic thriller, but if you’re signing up to learn about “Tetris,” that’s only about ten percent of the narrative. As a thriller it’s sub-par, but as a film about the iconic pop culture sensation that is “Tetris,” it just downright stinks.

Streaming on Apple TV Plus.