Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Movie Review: Gamer

Gamer * ½
Directed By: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor.
Written By: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor.
Starring: Gerard Butler (Kable), Amber Valletta (Angie), Michael C. Hall (Ken Castle), Kyra Sedgwick (Gina Parker Smith), Logan Lerman (Simon), Alison Lohman (Trace), Terry Crews (Hackman), Ramsey Moore (Gorge), Ludacris (Humanz Brother), Aaron Yoo (Humanz Dude), John Leguizamo (Prisoner).

With Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage, directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor established themselves as two of the loudest, stupidest filmmakers in the world. Those two movies were shot and edited at lightning speed, the camera never resting, never focusing on anything for longer than a split second, as the “hero” moved from one violent encounter to the next. Both films looked like they were shot by a team of meth addicted monkeys, and made the films of Michael Bay look tame by comparison. Inexplicably, both films were rather well received critically - I seemed to be the only one bothered by the rampant misogyny, racism and homophobia on display in the film.

So to say that Gamer is far and away their best film yet is to damn the film with faint praise. The films visual look is the same as the previous films - the film is non stop action pretty much from the opening credits to the closing credits. The editing and cinematography still move way too quickly, still make it impossible for the audience to ever orient itself to the action, and never gives us a chance to focus on any one character for any period of time. But perhaps because the film moves so quickly from one scene to another, this time around, they never really have time to be overtly misogynistic or racist - that would require a conversation of some sort, and this movie doesn’t do conversations.

Gerald Butler stars as Kable, a death row inmate who has been given a chance for freedom. By signing up for a Pay Per View Show Slayers, which has death row inmates compete in a real life video game environment, and being controlled by players who tells them what to do and when, he has given himself a chance to get released. All he has to do is survive 30 battles, and he’s out. He is only three battles remaining. The game is the brainchild of eccentric genius Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), who started with a “game” called Society, which allowed regular people to control others in a real life environment - making them have sex or really do just about anything else imaginable. Kable’s wife, Angie (Amber Valletta) has had her daughter taken away from her since her husband was sent to death row, and is now stuck making a living being one of the mindless drones in Society, being controlled during her shifts by a huge overweight shut-in, who spends his entire life watching his bank of TV screens and sweating.

Of course there is a group of concerned citizens who object to Castle and his games. They call themselves Humanz, and they are led by Ludacris, and they hack into the sites and TV shows to make their points known to the world. No one seems to care.

If there is a reason to see the film, it is Michael C. Hall’s seriously demented performance as Castle. Hall, the best actor on TV right now (please give the man an Emmy this year for his brilliant work on Dexter) seems to know he is in an absolutely ridiculous movie, and has decided to fully embrace the madness. Speaking in a strange, unidentifiable Southern accent, and speaking mainly in weird stream of consciousness sentences, we never know what the hell he’s going to do next. There is a scene of absolute genius late in the film where Hall does a strange song and dance number to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” that is absolutely brilliant.

But that really is the only reason why Gamer is of any value at all. The rest of the movie is one violent scene after another, as Butler has to fight his way through a seemingly endless army of nameless, faceless “bad guys”. Controlled by a 17 year old kid named Simon (Logan Lerman), who looks oddly like Zac Efron, he wants to be set loose, because he knows that Castle does not want him to actually win - he knows too much to be allowed to talk.

Butler has never really impressed me as an actor, but it must be said that here he does just about as good of a job as is humanly possible. What is required of him here is not his acting ability, but his willingness to get the crap kicked out of him in every scene, and keep on ticking. There is a scene in this film where he wants to get gas into a car, so he can take off, so he gets drunk, and vomits and pisses in the gas tank to give the car enough ethanol to run. It’s that kind of logic that runs through the movie.

Gamer is a movie that just never stops. It just keeps sprinting from one scene to the next, regardless of whether or not any of it actually makes sense. I must admit that the film is never boring, but it is never really involving either. The experience of watching the film is like watching someone else play a video game. Sure, all the flashes and bangs are entertaining for while, but sooner or later you want to get involved.

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