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MTV's Make Jenny A Star

Viacom New Media; CD-ROM; $69.95

Probably the most anticipated killer app to hit the computer world since Visicalc will be MTV's "Make Jenny a Star", starring, of course, supervixen and fantasy du jour Jenny McCarthy. A young starlet appearing in a comupter game? It hardly seems newsworthy. But two things are turning heads about this product: McCarthy's reported $2.3 million salary (nothing by Hollywood standards, but literally eye-popping for a computer game), and the unique nature of the game, sure to cause billions of dollars in carpet damage from the collective drool of a million nerds waiting for their 6x CD-ROM drives to get up to speed.

This is a game about making a movie: an erotic thriller called "Jacked" (a computer nerd version of "Basic Instinct"), which is to be the vehicle for Ms. McCarthy's inevitable rise to A-list film bimbo. You play the director. You are handed the script, and Ms. McCarthy in the starring role. The rest is up to you.

The first step is a meeting with Jenny. She immediately tries to seduce you. If she suceeds (I don't think she'll have too much trouble with most players) you get to enjoy a computerized sampling of the ample pleasures of the flesh that Ms. McCarthy has to offer. You are living the dream of millions: you are fucking Jenny McCarthy. However, nothing is free. Jenny has very strong ideas about how the movie should be made, and she won't hesitate to use her newfound 'leverage' to influence you.

Given that caveat, you run the show. You read the script. Ms. McCarthy stars as an bright young District Attorney, prosecuting a hacker accused of embezzling money from an off-shore bank. Of course, the hacker is not exactly what he seems, and Ms. McCarthy's character sinks deeper into a morass of intrigue fueled by the mob, money-laundering, and corruption in Federal Law Enforcement. Oh -- and of course, there's sex. Lots of sex. Sex on planes, in cars, on conference tables, on desks. Ms. McCarthy seems to be scripted for an inordinate amount of amarous activity with three different partners -- all of whom may or may not be the bad guy. But, within limits, it's all up to you now. You can send the script back for revisions, instructing the writers what to emphasize. You can bring in high-priced script doctors. Do you tell them to rewrite the oral sex scene, as Jenny so gently suggests, whispering into your ear after dinner? Do you play up the action sequences? Do you de-emphasize the sex? Most of it is pretty weakly justified in plot terms; cutting some of it would definitely make a better movie. Somehow I don't think most players will bother.

Then, it's on to casting. An endless parade of actors streams by, the sorts of actors you recognize from countless supporting roles in movies, maybe the lead in an obscure straight to video hit. The men are square-jawed and the women pouty. As director, you have enormous power -- the game allows you to play the casting couch card to enjoy the favours of many a desperate aspiring actress. But be aware that Jenny might find out; and Jenny's wrath is not to be discounted -- it wreaks havoc both on the movie production and your personal life.

For the male lead, the wily and paranoid hacker, I brought Michael Biehn, Harry Hamlin, and even Ed Begley Jr. back for interviews before settling on Bruce Boxleitner to save a little money (he was in _Tron_, after all). I figured no one would care who the male lead was, so long as Jenny delivered the goods. The role of the banking executive I gave to Judd Nelson, casting both against type and good taste. The role of the best friend and potential lesbian love interest went to Jill Hennessey (late of TV's _Law and Order_) and I brought in the journeyman B movie veteran Lance Henriksen to play the chief Treasury Investigator. It really seems like all these actors (and many more) posed for head shots and a few body-tracking sessions, enough to allow their likenesses to be grafted on top of the generic male and female bodies the game uses as templates.

After a few more preparations, it's on to the actual shoot. The game doesn't cover the whole movie, only about 15 minutes worth of key scenes. You shoot the scenes, choosing between various options for technical aspects of the film like lighting and camera work. You can even direct the actors, explaining their motivation or telling them to speak from 'an angry place' if you want. You reshoot scenes if you're not happy with the performances. But be warned -- making Jenny redo the sex scenes over and over again is the surest way to make her pitch a fit and leave the set.

The miscellaneous problems that plague a shoot, both large and small, are legion. Logistical dilemmas continually pop up -- do you film everything in LA or move some of the production to Vancouver? Do you cut back the expensive corporate headquarters scene with the expensive set? The financial backers (one of whom looks strangerly like Phil Gramm) must be kept happy. They show up periodically to check on things and stare and Ms. McCarthy in her bizarrely low cut power suits. But occasionally dilemmas of a more personal nature crop up. In one game, Jenny went on a one-week eating binge and put on ten pounds. Do you reshoot old scenes to avoid inconsistencies or crack down on Jenny to lose the weight, even if you know it might lead her to bulimia? In another game Jenny showed up with a surprise nose job over the weekend, rendering three weeks' shooting useless. Do you just throw the film away? What would you do? Tough choices.

The most amazing part of this all is Ms. McCarthy, who plays herself with no apparent sense of irony as a back-biting, tempermental starlet, one moment vamping around like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and the Lucky Charms Leprechaun, the next bitching and screaming like a heroin-withdrawing Joan Crawford. I'm not clear if that reflects very poorly on Ms. McCarthy -- or very highly. She approaches the sex scenes, licking, sucking, and caressing, with technical mastery and a gusto that has to be seen to be believed. I have visions of this leading to arguments across the world as men ask their lovers why they can't be 'more like Jenny'.

One wonders what Ms. McCarthy's motivation is in all of this. Given the televangelical fervor of the mass hysteria of publicity surrounding her right now (does _Newsweek_ really have nothing better to spend half a page on?), one would think she could wait for her fifteen minutes to end in any one of a number of lucrative television deals. Both MTV and major networks have been showering her with attension. One wonders why she's spending her time helping nerdy adolescent boys get more of the anatomical details right in their nightly fantasies of her. Maybe the money was right. Maybe they got her under contract before Jenny-mania was still only a little funnel cloud off in the horizon. Maybe she thinks that this sort of thing is 'cutting edge', both conceptually and technologically. In any case, you can be sure the presumably FBI-registered fingerprints of her agent cum boyfriend Ray Manzara are all over this. Who better to trust? After all, look what he did for Suzanne Sommers.

Its other virtues aside, I found "Make Jenny a Star" to be a pretty good game. I am neither a hormone saturated male nor an avid computer game player, but I found myself sucked in. I was already familiar with the technical intricacies of directing, and the game does a good job of presenting them and making them feel like challenging decisions instead of exam questions. I was absorbed by the more personal challenges of maintaining a balance between the elements of production: keeping Jenny happy while maintaining the integrity of the production, keeping costs down an the studio suits happy while making a movie I could be proud of (well, as proud as I could be of an erotic thriller). I got caught up in the game. I really did find myself flush with excitement, walking into Mann's Chinese Theatre, Jenny on my arm, for the premiere. I even yelled at some arbitrary Miramax peon named Dan just to get in the mood.

Luckily for the producivity of programmers everywhere, the game is still months away from shipping and looks to be pushed back even farther; I looked at an early alpha testing copy, acquired somehow (I don't think I want to know) by a crack SurReview black ops team. Given MTV's tradition of innovative and relentless marketing I am almost dreading the full land, air, and sea media attack this game promises to generate. I give it a good review. It's sure been popular around the office. One editor who shall remain nameless (Ok, it's Joel) seems to be obsessed. In the long run, I'm sure any review of this game will be irrelevant: most who will buy it haven't made it this far in the review, stopping to clean up the drool the second paragraph generated; those who won't buy it stopped reading about the same time, out of disgust. The few men who have made it this far probably will still buy it, but only when their girlfriends aren't looking.

-- Monica Arnzen


Copyright 1997
James D Thomas