Gamer looked like a bad idea from the start. A version of Death Race for the video game crowd, by definition the movie was never going to appeal to the masses. Driving home the fact was that writing/directing team Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the men behind Crank and Crank 2, were at the helm, guaranteeing that the movie would be a frenetic onslaught few audience members would be able to comprehend. Following terrible reviews and awful movie trailers, it was an easy decision to wait until DVD - and on DVD it is (January 19, 2010 to be precise). Perhaps due to low expectations, Gamer surprisingly has some entertainment value - even if it is pretty bad.
In Gamer, Gerard Butler continues his quest to be the action hero no one recognizes. Ever since 2004's The Phantom of the Opera, in which he played the title character, Butler has starred in five action movies, few of them memorable or worth seeing. His one exception, however - the blockbuster hit 300 - should have catapulted him to another level of stardom, but instead he continues to show up in movies like Gamer, playing a growly, slightly likable guy who just doesn't offer anything noteworthy to audiences. I do believe he has potential, but not as an action star or fluffy romantic interest.
Got sidetracked. In Gamer, Butler plays Kable, a popular video game character the entire world recognizes. You see, in the near future, a billionaire inventor (played by Dexter's Michael C. Hall) has invented a technology where those with money can purchase the use of avatars - who are also real people - and make them do whatever they want. Kable, who was sentenced to prison for murder, has been put in a gladiator-esque first-person shooter where he's controlled by a teenage kid. If he manages to survive all thirty levels, he is set free; of course, Dexter doesn't want that to happen for one reason or another.
Honestly, the premise of Gamer is sort of clever, if not extremely farfetched. Movies like these seemed to have worked in the 70's and early 80's, but nowadays the possibilities of something like this happening are just so remote it's hard to buy into them. Nonetheless, if you can, some credit should be given to the Crank boys as there are some imaginative moments. The scenes set in Society, a real-life version of Second Life where fat, slimy men control people to have "virtual" sex, among other things, are clever, for instance.
Gamer does hint at some socio-political elements, but as can be expected those elements are hardly explored by the filmmakers. Instead, the movie is all about visuals and visceral excitement; Gamer is by no means as crazy as Crank, which is a good thing, though it's still way too zany for the average filmgoer.
As an action movie, Gamer has plenty to watch, though whether any of it is worth watching is another matter. Neveldine and Taylor know how to make a fast-paced movie, but they haven't quite mastered how to make (or haven't figured out that they should make) a compelling action sequence. Lots of crap blows up, but there isn't a single memorable action sequence in the entire movie.
Gamer is a double-edged sword. If you set expectations low, the movie offers enough fast-paced entertainment to be watchable. Compared to Crank, it is extremely tolerable. But the movie is still gutter trash, a movie with an interesting concept that still just appeals to the lowest common denominator. That's fine, but the filmmakers shouldn't be surprised when few people go and see their work.
Review by Dakota Grabowski (D-)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Gerard Butler, the fabled savior of the action genre due to his macho representation of Leonidas in the Warner Bros. film 300, finally returns to the action genre after his brief departure to romantic-comedies (2007's P.S. I Love You and 2009's The Ugly Truth). His return, though, is barred from being fully appreciated with the schizophrenic camera control, fast-paced editing, and pathetic storytelling.
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the same tandem that directed and helped craft the script for Crank and Crank: High Voltage, Gamer is put through the ringer in an attempt to create a visceral film that will stun the audience. Unfortunately, stealing cues from The Bourne series, Gamer suffers with its handheld camera shots that could nauseate viewers. More often than not, viewers will wonder, "What is going on?" The pacing of the film is poor due to the narrative bouncing around in effort to grab a hold of the viewer and have them become attached to the pitifully created characters.
In fact, the first 20 minutes of the film is nonstop action that has blood, guts and enough gore to appease the younger demographic who appreciate over-the-top violence. By the halfway point, though, the story still hasn't advanced far enough to create any real concern for Butler's action-hero Kable. Kable is fighting in a world where he's trying to win his freedom from death row by killing other inmates in a military-esque game. If Kable is able to survive 30 matches in a row, he'll be able to leave scotch free and resume his life.
Well, as clichéd as it is, Michael C. Hall's character, who runs the game for the public to watch, enters and determines that Kable isn't allowed to win since Kable holds the secrets to Hall's nefarious plot to rule the world. I kid you not; Gamer is as clichéd as any other science-fiction film where control of human beings and robots is the focal point; or in any video game, where the hero must stop the villain from taking over the world. Gamer is a contrived mess that has a bright idea to pit humans in a virtual world where they are, in turn, controlled by other humans; but ultimately, it fails at being a worthwhile film.
Michael C. Hall's performance as Ken Castle is the only bullet point that stands out. His acting is over-the-top, but looking back upon the film, the audience should appreciate his social commentary about how silly Gamer is. In the key sequence of the film, Hall busts out a dance number where he parades around a room while Butler's Kable fights Castle's minions who stand between him and Kable's free life. Even as the only dazzling moment of the film, it's not enough to recommend to any of Hall's Dexter fans to sit through the atrocious film.
The rest of the supporting cast don't do much but pose for the camera. Actually, I take that back: Terry Crews, known for his popular role in the television show "Everybody Hates Chris" and the film White Chicks, does a humorous job as a physical rival to Butler's Kable. Tongue-in-cheek throughout, Crews helps keep the story lighthearted even when it's not supposed to be. The same can't be said for rapper-turned-actor Ludacris, TNT's Kyra "The Closer" Sedgwick, and Sam Raimi's featured star in Drag Me to Hell, Alison Lohman - they just smile for the camera without much to do.
Besides the musical number, it's best to avoid Gamer at all costs.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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