When it came out last fall, “Gamer” was quickly dismissed and almost as quickly left theaters, leaving in its wake a handful of dedicated fans and critics that either hailed it for its technical wizardry or panned it for its rapid-fire editing, fevered pace, and outrageous plot. In short, it had cult classic written all over it.
“Gamer” comes from the creative duo of Neveldin/Taylor, the same people responsible for “Crank” and the vastly superior “Crank 2: High Voltage” and their trademark style is immediately recognizable. Neveldine/Taylor make movies like people who have never made a movie before, that is to say, the same rules and conventions on both a technical and storytelling level don’t apply. This approach is easily the movie’s strongest element, as the premise is flimsy at best.
Gerard Butler plays Kable, a death row inmate who participates in a game called Slayers. You see, in the distant future, video games have evolved to the point that people are able to control other people, seeing through their eyes and controlling their movements. There are two games that are immensely popular in the future.
The first is Society, a game similar to The Sims, that allows people to assume the role of another person (called an I-con) in an environment where anything goes. The second is Slayers, which is a first-person shooter that follows a group of death-row inmates as they battle from one end of a play area to the other. Their only goal being survival. If a slayer survives for 30 sessions, he earns his freedom.
Kable is closing in on his 30th win and has become an international phenomenon. His likeness is plastered over entire skyscrapers and across skylines. People cheer for him in multiple languages and it’s easy to see why. In the movie’s thrilling opening, we see exactly what it takes to survive Slayers, as Kable works his way through a hardened battlefield, killing any and everything that gets in his way before finally reaching the Save Point, the map’s conclusion.
The sequence features plenty of the sick humor and the frenetic pacing that permeated the “Crank” series, as a slayer stops to teabag a fallen enemy. There’s plenty of the usual shaky cam that dominates trench combat in movies these days, but when “Gamer” slows down the level of choreography and complexity, the action sequences are equally remarkable, particularly in Kable’s 29th and 30th matches.
“Gamer” tries to extend past its action-movie premise a few times with limited results. The concept of ownership is explored in segments that focus on the other game, Society. There, we see people being involuntarily subjected to numerous implied sex acts at the hands of their puppet masters. Neveldine/Taylor delight in focusing on the unnatural interactions between characters and dressing the Society I-cons in ridiculous ensembles, a detail any fan of The Sims will appreciate.
It’s unfortunate that the movie ends up settling into a “man vs. the system” structure that gives way to a villain that personifies everything that is wrong with the story’s society. This decision is an easy ‘out’ and it distracts from the true villain of “Gamer” –– a society so self-absorbed and with so little regard for life that the games within are allowed to happen at all.
At least things blow up purdy.