14 February 2010

Movie Review: Gamer


2009, 95mins, 18
Director (s): Neveldine/Taylor
Writer (s): Neveldine/Taylor
Cast includes: Gerard Butler, Amber Valetta, Michael C. Hall, Alison Lohman, Logan Lerman, Terry Crews, Ludacris, Aaron Yoo
UK Release Date: 16th September 2009

Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (or Neveldine/Taylor as they prefer to credit themselves) impressed me with their rip roaring debut “Crank” in 2006. A complete love/hate affair “Crank” enthralled me with its hyper kinetic action and ridiculous sense of humour, many hated the film and lambasted it as brainless and misogynistic, but I found it to be a pressure cooker of excitement and energy. “Gamer” was released last year and marks Neveldine and Taylor’s third collaboration behind the camera; and it’s a messy endeavour to say the least. The barbs aimed at videogaming society are warranted but the story is ineffective and Gerard Butler is simply no replacement for Jason Statham. I had my interest piqued by individual moments in the picture but as a whole it feels uneasy and mostly frustrating.

“Gamer” unfolds in a world where humans play out their lives through others in two different virtual realities. The first is called “Society” and it operates as a sexed up version of “The Sims”; allowing gamers to connect with real people and have them act as the computer surfing nerd sees fit. The second is the more violent and aggressive “Slayers” in which real death row inmates are pitted against each other in the heat of battle. If a slayer makes it through 30 sessions he wins his freedom, something that Kable (Gerard Butler) is close to doing. Controlled by rich kid Simon (Logan Lerman), Kable needs to get out so he can once again be reunited with his wife and child. However the creator of these simulations Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) thinks that Kable might know too much about the backstage workings of his empire and is thus not keen on the idea of him winning release.

“Gamer” is about as visually vigorous as cinema gets. Neveldine/Taylor are no strangers to hyperactive shot construction and crazed action but “Gamer” takes the bonkers filmmaking to new heights; minus the tongue in cheek beauty of “Crank”. The film looks to have been edited with the most potent laser in existence; the cutting frantic and the tinge of digitalised colour ladled on with no remorse. The directorial duo certainly has an eye for excessive style and uses it to create an oddly imbalanced world with “Gamer”. Parts of this futuristic earth are grimy and drenched in depression and death while other stretches are more vibrant and eye-popping than your average bubblegum store. As individual environments they work well and deserve kudos for craftsmanship but together they strike a nauseatingly surreal chord; almost like the by product of an unpleasant night sucking back tequila shots and lucidly dreaming. It’s a unique and carefully constructed aesthetic but something about it doesn’t blend to create a satisfying whole.

Butler is as one note as ever but relief is granted via a few neat supporting turns. Michael C. Hall is a terrific villain not granted enough exposure on the big screen. Neveldine/Taylor channel the actor’s natural menace and insanity into an unsettling digital mogul who makes a believable and dangerous adversary. Adding Alison Lohman in as part of a resistance movement and Terry Crews as a psychotic slayer opponent are also good calls; whilst Logan Lerman nails the spoilt brat routine with his morally repugnant teenage gamer. Amber Valetta is a pathetically underwritten as Kable’s wife but overall the casting in “Gamer” isn’t bad for your average Hollywood shoot em’up.

The commentary the film makes on the voyeuristic nature or our culture and on the increasingly questionable standards of gaming is welcome but not always successful. Neveldine/Taylor offer a few scenes of the disturbing possibilities which such digital freedoms might offer your average creep and do a fine job of making both games seem super unappealing. However large swathes of incomprehensible action keep the satire from achieving a razor sharp edge and the team’s sense of humour is muted in this outing. A few of the anarchic hits of ultraviolent carnage executed by the filmmakers do work but through some odd creative choices and a general inability to keep the camera still others are totally ruined. Suspension of disbelief is also pivotal for “Gamer” to work successfully; one scene with a bottle of Vodka and an Ethanol powered car for instance is unlikely to work at home.

Butler’s infuriatingly samey performance and Valetta’s paper thin characterization mean “Gamer” has no real emotional core and thus the finale is a total anticlimax. The film is isn’t a total failure and makes some worthwhile snipes at videogaming whilst batting the occasional action sequence out of the park. However as a whole it’s a vastly imperfect experience; riddled with flaws and likely to be consigned to genre specific mediocrity. “Gamer” isn’t inept in the extreme but on the whole one does get the feeling it’s a wasted opportunity.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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