Theatrical Review: GAMER
Writer/Director: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Cast: Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Logan Lerman, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Amber Valletta
Summer blockbusters, a genre unto themselves, rarely extend beyond the borders of a flat plot and big explosions into anything more thought-provoking. Yet, they entertain us in a popcorn-munching mindless daze. GAMER, brought to us by the dynamic duo behind such previous summer fare as CRANK and CRANK 2, manages to at least scratch beyond the high gloss surface and attempts to pass itself off as a bit of a social commentary. The premise is this: in a world of overpopulated prisons and an increasingly introverted, desensitized public, a new game is created in which players can safely sit at home controlling live humans in a mortally devastating internationally broadcast battle. Kable, played by Gerard Butler (300), is our star "icon" in this scenario, controlled by an appropriately cocky Logan Lerman (3:10 TO YUMA), on their way to record-breaking fame. The prize is Butler's freedom from the game, but the closer he gets, the further out of reach the prize falls. That is, until a radical anti-game group appears on the scene to begin sabotaging the greatest media sensation the world has ever seen.
While Gamer does have all the crash, bang, and breasts of CRANK, it also tries to look at who we are, as a society, and where we are going; using broad stereotypes and canned introspection all the way. Early on we are introduced to Ken Castle, the man behind the game "Slayer" and its predecessor "Society" (a kind of real life Second Life), portrayed by a highly entertainingly sleazy Michael C. Hall (DEXTER). In a sardonically glitzy daytime talk show mockumentary, "Society" is prefaced as the first step in live game innovation - a place where people can sign up to control or be controlled in a world where morals and inhibitions are cast aside. Castle explains that there will always be people willing to take control and others willing to lose control, all in the name of pleasure, and thus "Society" fills that void without violating and humanity or morality. But where "Society" is about living through someone else, "Slayer" is about killing through someone else. We learn that, in his newest interactive endeavor, all the icons in "Slayer" are inmates on death row, who have signed up for one last chance at freedom, should they win the game. As such, their death of the icons at the hands of the players is not seen as murder, but simply the carrying out of their legal death sentence. It is from atop this moral trapeze, the movie then hangs its story.
So while the questions of violence in media, capital punishment, fetishism, and sexual deviancy are not new or even original, they make for a marginally more complex story than simply good versus evil. This attempt is respectable in a movie that is, at its heart, a giant explosion. The success or failure of the movie to answer these questions is fairly irrelevant as they are all moral dilemmas without universal solution. The movie also does not survive by its action sequences, which while brutal, are fairly unoriginal and often too chaotic to even follow. Rather, what really makes the movie enjoyable is the constant parade of human parodies portrayed by a slew of cameos. From Terry Crews in effectively the same role he's ever played, to Milo Ventimiglia in a very non-Heroic character, to James Roday and Maggie Lawson as the most foul-mouthed newscasters on the air, I was constantly amazed and amused by various movie and TV personas. And yes, while the movie was filled with caricatures (gamers are apparently either sweaty blobs of human depravity, or hyperactive spoiled teens), they are at least charismatic. I would even go so far as to say the core protagonist stars are the flattest of the characters, overplayed by Hall and the massive collection of recognizable walk-ons.
The cinematography was also aggressively captivating and unimaginably dynamic. Taking a lot of cues from CRANK and its intensely warped vision, GAMER uses boldly over-saturated colors for "Society;" glum and muted colors for the real world; and impossible camera angles captured on grainy desaturated film for "Slayer." Each layer of the film has its own look and style, and when the world start to collide, the styles do so as well, which brings the chaos of the characters and the story to the viewer. The result was a visually stunning action fest filled with sweat and blood, glitz and nipples.
GAMER is not the next GLADIATOR, or even the next 300, but what it is, is an entertaining movie that takes bits of the past, present, and future, and combines them in a stylistically charged way that makes for a marginally deeper summer slam fest. With a little bit of THE RUNNING MAN, a preview of SURROGATES, a dash of STRANGE DAYS, and just a hint of PINOCCHIO, GAMER is, at its best, an amusing action ride and at its worst, a percussively loud game of "guess who."