STARRING: Gerard Butler, Kyra Sedgwick,
Michael C. Hall, Chris Ludacris Bridges, John Leguizamo, Amber Valletta, Terry
Crews, Logan Lerman, Johnny Whitworth, Zoe Bell
2009, 95 Minutes, Directed by:
Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Neveldine and Brian Taylor are the brains behind the Crank franchise of
cynical, 8-bit, head-smashing entertainment. Gamer is the duo’s first
foray outside of the suffocating Statham kingdom, but I could scarcely tell the
A rude, crude, deafening
valentine to overkill cinema laughably passed off as muffled social commentary,
Gamer is ideal for fans of the nauseating Crank series, as it
traces along the same old lines of chaos, revealing that these directors,
credited simply as neveldine/taylor, are two of the most inept minds working in
the industry today.
In the ill-defined future (the
technology looks 2097, the soundtrack and the costumes are strictly 1997), a
grim video game titled Slayers has come to dominate the world. Using prisoners
to act as mind-controlled avatars for players at home, the men are sent into
battle, with one warrior, Kable (Gerard Butler), close to winning his freedom
through repeated combat zone victory. Constantly reminded of the domestic
serenity he lost when sent behind bars, Kable looks to his user, Simon (Logan
Lerman), to help set him free. Off to find his wife (Amber Valletta), who’s
trapped inside her own virtual reality prison, Kable finds his every move
thwarted by billionaire tech guru Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), who isn’t ready
to give up his top soldier without a fight.
Gamer is another sensory
eruption for Neveldine and Taylor, who, in their third feature film, have
successfully proven their unconditional devotion to non-stop aggression. The
anarchy wasn’t cute in Crank and it kneecaps Gamer immediately
upon launch. Equipped with their customary handheld digital cameras, the
directors send the cast into a hailstorm of severed body parts and flying
bullets, getting off on the mayhem of the gaming floor, where Kable has to blast
his way out of every corner.
"It makes a friendly trip to the multiplex feel like
It’s a thump of animated sound
effects and blood spattering, aching to convey a well-established tone of
heightened video game brutality, only here the boys seem to enjoy the taste of
their own poison. The directors get stiff over this stuff, burning off whatever
cautionary fringes of the screenplay remained before production. Gamer has too
much fun with the gratuitous violence, nudity, and thespian cart-wheeling to
really pay attention to the small blessings such as plot, rules, or consistency.
Neveldine and Taylor treat that stuff like poison ivy.
Gamer does have the
stench of a film that was torn apart a few times in the editing room. Kable’s
quest for familial peace is a subplot that feels larger to the overall spectrum
of Gamer than the final product allows, especially with a supporting cast of
familiar faces (including Allison Lohman, Keith David, Kyra Sedgwick, Ludacris,
Terry Crews, and John Leguizamo) around suggesting a beefier narrative
previously in place to support the ultraviolence.
With the story largely scraped
away, Gamer is an empty shell of hyperactive visuals, most centered on
the pornification of the world through the new online frontier, leaving the
directors ample room to shoot extreme close-ups of sweaty, writhing bodies and
invent characters named Rick Rape, played with specific favor-cashing
embarrassment by Milo Ventimiglia.
I shouldn’t complain too loudly about the lack of story in Gamer when all
Neveldine and Taylor can do with their script is make obvious Internet user
jokes (the face-stuffing obese guy turns into the sex bomb during his online
hours) and dream up a one-note villain character in Ken Castle, played with
eye-popping repulsion by Hall, who spends his every last screen minute hamming
it up to a rotten Hormel degree. Hall is appalling in his big screen baddie
debut, straightening out every last acting school kink imaginable. It’s an
insufferable, Razzie-polishing piece of acting, though to be fair to the beloved
Dexter star, the filmmakers have encouraged everyone in the cast to swing
for the rafters. How weird is it to report that Gerard Butler, of all people,
gives the most metered, appealing performance of the picture.
Gamer is junk food that
intended to speak on the insulation of the gaming soul at one point during its
journey to the screen. The theatrical version does away with any exciting
subtext to provide an empty calorie thrill ride, giving hungry audiences their
dose of booms and wows for the month. A smarter director might’ve accepted the
challenge with a suitable, creative plan of attack.
Neveldine and Taylor simply
spray their venom across the screen with little vision, once again making a
friendly trip to the multiplex feel like undeserved torture.
- Brian Orndorf