Gamer (2009) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for frenetic sequences of strong brutal violence throughout, sexual content, nudity and language
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Logan Lerman, Amber Valletta, Kyra Sedgwick, Terry Crews, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, John Leguizamo, Alison Lohman
Small role: Milo Ventimiglia, Zoe Bell, Keith David
Director: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Screenplay: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Review published November 10, 2014
The Running Man meets Demolition Man for this outwardly intriguing, but inwardly empty-headed idea for an action/sci-fi hybrid. If Gerard Butler (PS I Love You, 300) is giving your film the most understated, nuanced performance, you know you're making a film that vaults wildly over the top in its acting turns. Not that you may notice all of the rampant hamminess, as the directors inject themselves all over every second of this film with their over-edited and aggressively pushy style that annoys far more than it enhances.
Crank directors Neveldine & Taylor (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) get to masturbate their supercharged sex & violence all over another project with Gamer, which takes two popular trends, video games and reality shows, and merges them in one giant, ultraviolent sci-fi/action package. Set not far in Earth's future, the use of nanocells to control the action of human hosts has become a thing, and game guru Ken Castle (Hall, Paycheck) has harnessed the technology to create the world's grandest digital playgrounds, which are televised to the world for a ratings bonanza. The first is a "Second Life" clone featuring real actors to watch called "Society", which is mostly an excuse to see people engage in whatever wanton hedonism its players controlling them would never think to do, if they even bothered to leave their own homes.
The other is called "Slayers", in which home gamers can control their own real-life humans, consisting of convicted death-row psychopaths, in a giant multiplayer game to the death in a highly volatile combat arena. The best "Slayers" participant has become something of a celebrity himself, a 17-year-old rich kid named Simon (Lerman, 3:10 to Yuma), managing to keep a flesh-and-blood avatar named Kable (Butler) alive to the point where he's just a couple of victories away from his freedom. But Castle has a reason to keep Kable from achieving his goal, unleashing his own psycho (Crews, Terminator Salvation), who isn't addled by the momentary lag between player-to-avatar, and he's going to crush Kable before a rebel group of hackers named "Humanz" can bring down this digital empire.
An excessively jittery, overly busy mise-en-scene is but one of this film's many problems with general obnoxiousness, which trades in anything resembling a characterization for a brutal barrage of bullets, babes, bombs, and bloodshed. This wouldn't be nearly as bad if there were a clear distinction to the way the gaming utopia/dystopia is shot vs. the way the real world exists, as there doesn't appear to be a discernible difference. Everything is an oversaturated, hyper-stylized mess. One could read a certain social commentary into the film if its makers weren't so obviously enamored of displays of wanton sex and violence, losing the ability to peel back the surface to reveal any sense out of lots of senseless carnage and carnal pleasures. Neveldine/Taylor don't want to expose a societal ill so much as to exploit it.
Gamer will likely make you stop halfway through to pop in your own video game to play in an effort to get some enjoyment out of non-stop violence, or, if you stick through to the increasingly preposterous ending (which includes a disparaging moment of potential forced filicide and a wince-inducing attempt at a musical number(!)), to pop a few aspirins and Dramamine pills to help to recover from the assault your mind has endured at the hands of filmmakers who've run amok.
©2014 Vince Leo