Gamer (United States, 2009)

September 04, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Gamer Poster

I wonder if Gamer might make a good game; it certainly doesn't make a good movie. However, add an element of interactivity into the hyperkinetic, repetitive action, plodding narrative, and stupefyingly obvious social commentary, and the potential might exist for something entertaining. As a series of images projected on the screen, it's a waste of time and talent. Writer/directors Neveldine and Taylor, the men behind Crank and its sequel, subjugate plot to style, except here they do it without the wit and audacity that characterized the two Jason Statham movies. Gamer is dark and dreary; even the "catharsis" as the end is shrouded in gloom.

The biggest problem with Gamer is the basic incoherence of the action sequences. They are shot using a shaky camera and edited by someone with ADD in hyperdrive. It's as if Neveldine/Tayor are trying for a Guinness world record for most number of cuts in a 90 minute movie. It's not only the action scenes that suffer. An innocuous sequence set in a rave is assembled in a similar manner. Paradoxically, this style is intended to bring the viewer into the action; it does the opposite. First-person might work in virtual reality, but it fails in motion pictures. (As has repeatedly been proven - why does no one get the message?) The way the movie has been shot and presented also corrupts and sabotages the storyline. The filmmakers are so obsessed with being "cool" - different color schemes (wildly exaggerated for the VR worlds, black-and-white for reality), faux news broadcasts and television entertainment clips; gaming screens - that they quickly lose sight of plot and character. We're treated to a collage of images that add up to very little. It has no heart or soul, and very little in the way of a brain. It's the deficiencies of the Tin Man and the Scarecrow in one package.

Gamer takes place in the near future where living on-line has become more of an obsession than a pastime. The newest rage is "Slayers," a game whose feeds are broadcast on television for the world to see. There are human players controlling (via a direct mind link) living "icons" - death row inmates who have volunteered to "play." The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the promise of freedom if they survive all 30 battles. Anyone who saw The Running Man or Death Race knows victory is an unattainable myth. The current hero of "Slayers" is Kable (Gerard Butler) - under the control of master gamer Simon (Logan Lerman), Kable is moving to the final three rounds. This concerns media magnate Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), who can't risk Kable being reunited with his beloved wife, Angie (Amber Valletta), lest information he possesses become public. This is exactly what a resistance group is hoping for, so they plan to find a way to help Kable break free of Simon's leash. And a persistent reporter (Kyra Sedgwick) is along for the ride in order to get the story of a lifetime.

There are some ideas of interest floating around in Gamer, but they're never developed in ways that are interesting or compelling. There probably is a good movie in there somewhere, but it never emerges. It could be about existence in a VR universe (The Matrix) or futuristic blood sports (The Running Man) or the way in which relying on computers and robots results in physical deterioration (WALL-E). Those concepts are tossed around, but the filmmakers use them as props and plot elements. There is a vague and poorly defined attempt at making a statement about corrupt governments and overcrowded prisons (there's even a mention of spiraling health care costs), but it's a regurgitation of themes presented with intelligence in other, more clever movies. I found it irritating to be preached at during the course of such a gory, mindless enterprise. I was here for the battles - to seen the grizzled underdog kick ass. Because of the style, I was cheated of that.

Gerald Butler spends his screen time looking grim and depressed, and the mood is enhanced by his unpromising environs. There's no character to speak of here. We get glimpses of a happy past and hints of the tragedy that resulted in his incarceration, but the filmmakers aren't sufficiently interested into building Kable into something more than the icon he represents. Maybe that's a statement. Regardless, it doesn't make for an involving story. There are few things more tedious than action movies where no character is sufficiently developed to represent a rooting interest. As the villain of the piece, Michael C. Hall is miscast - he's more fatuous than sinister. Dexter fans are advised not to bother. Amber Valletta and Kyra Sedgwick have forgettable supporting roles - the paychecks must have been good.

Lionsgate is making a double statement about their belief in the movie's potential and quality by releasing it on Labor Day weekend (one of the two worst weekends of the year to open a film) and by electing not to screen it for critics. Although one suspects this strategy will maximize Gamer's limited revenue potential, nothing will save the production from the savage word-of-mouth likely to develop. Anyone interested in playing would be better served staying home and turning on the PS3. And anyone interested in seeing a movie would be hard-pressed to find a worst option. Game over.

Gamer (United States, 2009)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2009-09-04
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1