Rated R, 95 min. Directed by Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor. Starring Gerard Butler, Kyra Sedgwick, Michael C. Hall, Amber Valletta, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Terry Crews, Zoe Bell.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 11, 2009
I had high hopes for this third directorial outing from former extreme sports cinematographers Neveldine and Taylor, but 24 hours after watching Gamer's nonstop fireballs and fragmented body parts, all that comes to mind is the late Jim McKay's old ABC’s Wide World of Sports opening, "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport, the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat!" There are plenty of thrills and absolutely no shortage of agony – whatsoever – strewn throughout Gamer, but this dystopian take on an American near-future where first- (or is that third-?) person-shooter video games and The Sims or Second Life social gaming experiments have evolved into their own corresponding realities is still considerably less of a thrillgasm than playing Frogger blindfolded. That has everything to do with Neveldine and Taylor's script, which strenuously attempts to imbue its harebrained and ridiculously ordnance-happy theatrics with a misplaced sense of pseudo-subversive social commentary. Said commentary has already been done, and done better (even in this new, allegedly more trenchant "meta" form) by everything from Death Race 2000 and The Running Man to Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park and Kinji Fukasaku's
. What Gamer brings to the table (or, um, gamespace) isn't new or even all that clever. Video-gamers in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, unimaginatively dubbed Slayers, control, through virtual reality gaming techniques – imagine Call of Duty for the Wii – real, live human beings as they wage vicious battle against one another. These slayers are, in reality (which itself is a fragmentation grenade of a term in Neveldine and Taylor's twitchy paws), death row inmates who can theoretically earn their release should they somehow manage to survive 30 missions. (There is also a vastly more interesting, full-immersion virtual reality MMORPG going on in and around the Slayers game, the debauched Society, which itself owes a smallish debt to Brian Yuzna's squishy horror film of the same name.) Celebrated killer Kable (Butler) is controlled by player Simon (Logan Lerman), and both of them – and, by extension, everyone else, technically – are controlled by billionaire virtual-reality TV überproducer Ken Castle (Dexter's Hall), who, it goes without saying, has ulterior motives of his own. Things go awry, Kable cuts loose, and mayhem ensues. In their previous two Crank films (capsule summary: Adrenalized Jason Statham goes berserk, humorously), Neveldine and Taylor pulled off, to varying degrees, the action/comedy/gross-out trifecta, even going so far as to toss some genuinely freaky moments of out-and-out, non-sequitur Dadaisms into Crank: High Voltage. Gamer, on the other spurting, bloody limb, is mortally wounded by its shrill and obvious subtextual warnings about the dangers of excessive sex, violence, and gaming. It simultaneously takes itself both too seriously and not quite seriously enough and topples into the middle ground between smartass social critique and body-count bloodbath. Best to wait for home Wii version so you can really screw up your third-life metaself.