Judging by its credit roll and convincing mise-en-scène, Zero Charisma is a comedy about the culture of roleplay gaming made by people on the inside. It’s a pity, then, that it hews to sitcom-like formula rather than using this bank of knowledge and sympathy to create something more original, like the pitch-black satire occasionally that it occasionally hints at—akin to Patton Oswalt’s football-obsessive vehicle Big Fan. Instead the film is a broad, unsurprising character study of Scott (Sam Eidson), a burly man-child in his late 20s whose identity is entirely wrapped up in presiding as a dictatorial game master in the Austin house he shares with his golden-girl grandmother. Aside from his delivery-boy job, Scott’s life is subsumed by the cursed plains, fire enchantments, and medieval-themed speed metal that feed his need for “communal storytelling,” and writer Andrew Matthews, credited as co-director with Katie Graham, supplies him with stale characteristics of slack loserdom: no girlfriend or prospect of one, a seldom-read blog, and a diet heavy on Circus Peanuts and soda. Worse for the trajectory of the plot, there’s no plausible source of support or love that can rescue him from isolation, either in his fractured family or the RPG community, certainly not fellow beta-male Wayne (Brock England), who quivers unhealthily in Scott’s large shadow.
In crisis after one of the game-night “nerd herd” drops out to save his marriage, Scott spontaneously recruits bespectacled stranger Miles (Garrett Graham) to take his place, who quickly threatens Scott’s status as dork king by boasting of his exhausting sex life and the celebrated geek website he founded, and by swiftly resolving a years-long debate about the relative speeds of the Enterprise and the Millennium Falcon. Finding Miles even more of a threat than the dominance of video gaming, and with his rent-free lifestyle imperiled by the possible sale of Grandma’s house, the game master careens toward a breakdown, and since Zero Charisma’s tone doesn’t allow for an IRL body count, the only suspense is centered on whether Scott will come to some degree of self-awareness. The filmmakers seem to make that decision and then reverse it in the final two scenes, which along with the rest of their limited ambitions makes one long for a do-over roll of the narrative dice.