Color me shocked. What looked like a loud, obnoxious, superficial action flick in the previews actually succeeded in making a meaningful (yet disturbing) social statement. Harkening back to the exploitative B-movie action films of the late 80’s and 90’s, “Gamer” (aka “Game”) begins as a sleazy, violent bloodbath with seemingly no redeeming cinematic value. Just as I started to turn my brain off, the story surprised me with some plot devices and story concepts way ahead of its time.
The story takes place in a future so technologically saturated that most humans have completely abandoned their moral compasses. Death row inmates fight to the death in a machine gun-charged, 30 round battle royal called “Slayers” to win their freedom. Kable (Gerard Butler), the most celebrated hero of the game, is only 4 rounds away from release. The catch: He’s not in control. A spoiled, 17 year-old celebrity video gamer named Simon (Logan Lerman) remotely pulls Kable’s strings as he slaughters his way to the finish line.
Pulling everyone else’s strings is the evil computer billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) who has a secret agenda concerning the technology that drives “Slayers.” After learning Castle has rigged the game to ensure no one survives, Kable must convince Simon to cut him loose so he can escape and find his family through the anti-Castle underground resistance.
The sleaze and blood caught me off guard at first. Taking some cues from films like “Total Recall,” “Swordfish,” and the “Crank” series, “Gamer” drips with explicit sexual imagery to supplement the story’s ultra-violent storyline. Kable’s wife, Angie (Amber Valletta) works as a physical puppet or “avatar” for gamers to control in a shockingly perverted game called “Society” in which the gamer can command the avatar do anything to or with other avatars. Far more cringe-inducing than the “Slayers” game, players make the avatars engage in sex acts, self-mutilation or worse. When we find out that a sweaty, morbidly obese man with less than savory appetites has exclusive control over Angie, the idea becomes even more stomach-churning.
Before I turn you off of the film completely, I assure you the film does not glorify the sex or violence in the least. In fact, it portrays those acts so repulsively, it suggests a rather intelligent warning: The progression of technology might cost us our humanity. “Gamer” hammers this idea into the audience throughout the film, especially during the more despicable scenes. Michael C. Hall’s character drives the final nail in when we learn of his true intentions for this technology, something only an egomaniacal billionaire would mistake for a good idea.
I’ll gloss over the performances which I didn’t find too important to the execution. “Flashy, over the top and cartoonish to the extreme” about sums it up. Michael C. Hall gets to chew up the most scenery while Terry Crews as the psychopathic killer Hackman gets the #2 spot. Kyra Sedgwick shows up to cash a quick paycheck while Gerard Butler once again proves he’s the burliest and most charismatic action star out there. Alison Lohman and Ludacris sleepwalk through their thankless supporting roles. Only Valletta gets to show some tragic pantomiming, forcing back tears as her sweaty slave-master controls her words and actions.
The link to reality gives the story some added weight. Not that the film is realistic in the least but the connection to current online role playing games and first person shooters shows the writers/directors had a clear vision as to how videogames could evolve. Likewise the de-evolution of humans through technology is one of the creepiest and most interesting sci-fi concepts in the lexicon. I’m heartened to see even a loud, obnoxious action film can get that aspect right.
I salute the writing/directing team of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the creators of the outrageously entertaining “Crank” series, who manage to mine some deep concepts to complement their cleverly disguised genre piece as shallow smut. Not since “Starship Troopers” have I seen a film pull off a sly satire so well that it will probably fool a lot of critics and viewers into completely missing the point. I look forward to see how this Neveldine and Taylor will interpret the deformed, Confederate Civil War comic book hero “Jonah Hex” in their next feature project.
I can only recommend “Gamer” to two types of audiences: 1. Those who like their action brash and kinetic. 2. Sci-fi aficionados who can recognize a well-executed thematic concept when they see it… and not thumb their nose at the obvious pandering to a commercial crowd. Everyone else, steer clear.
4 out of 5 stars
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