My notes on Gamer (2009)
In the future (‘some years from this exact moment), megalomaniac tycoon Castle (Michael C. Hall) has made fortunes, and literally enslaved his customers, with two interactive computer games in which – thanks to some brain-injected sci-fi nonsense – players can control actual live people in environments which offer sex (‘Society’) and violence (‘Slayers’). John Tillmann aka Kable (Gerard Butler), a convict, is mentally linked with teenage super-player Simon (Logan Lerman), who guides him through Slayers bouts – the elusive prize being that the con who survives thirty battles will get a free pardon, though no one has managed it yet. Meanwhile, John’s wife Angie (Amber Valletta) is the living dress-up doll of morbidly obese shut-in Gorge (Ramsey Moore), guided through encounters in Society (typical of the film’s barrage of tiny references are glimpses of Angie in Blade Runner and Fifth Element tribute costumes) while their innocent daughter (a non-character plot token) has been adopted by the arch-baddie. Also in the mix are the Humanz, a bunch of hacker revolutionaries (Ludacris, Aaron Yoo, Alison Lohman), and a feral talk show hostess (Kyra Sedgwick) who might muck-rake for freedom if there are ratings in it.
Director/writer team Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor – who bill themselves as Neveldine/Taylor team, follow up their Crank movies with another sci-fi mash-up; Crank was Speed and DOA in a blender, and this scrambles elements from eXistenZ and The Running Man (plus many others) in a busy, exciting, slide down the cutting edge. Given that preferred N/T star Jason Statham has already played an unjustly-convicted death row gladiator out to beat the system in Death Race, they have to use the less instantly charismatic Gerard Butler as a blank icon hero – though it’s not Butler’s fault that a hero who spends most of the film yomping and firing in a bleached-out urban warfare environment is hard to warm up to, and the fact that he’s the remote-control creature of someone else doesn’t make it any easier to sympathise with his plight. The film tries to make something of the relationship between player and avatar, with a psycho (Terry Crews) loose in the game who has an advantage because he’s acting on his own (he sings ‘No Strings’ from Pinocchio) and has no ‘ping’ (the delay between orders being given and executed). Like most films about gladiatorial sports, this is stuck with a script which condemns the inhuman spectacle even as the film is selling it – here, the cushioned-in-safety nerds who play the game are let off lightly (though Gorge is made to look vile) since the convenient baddie is the tycoon who made the game rather than the callous geeks who play it (we never get the expected scene where Simon is exposed to actual combat with death and blood as opposed to the at-one-removed joystick version).
It also hurts that Slayers is such a conventional first-person shooter mish-mash (shoot-outs in car parks and urban ruins) which allows no personalities to emerge – though the bubblegum-coloured Society, with floating tags and ridiculous anime fashions, is more interesting. Six Feet Under/Dexter star Michael C. Hall finally gets a worthy movie role as an eccentric puppet-master villain, flirting with everyone as he reveals his evil plans and, in an astonishing moment, doing a puppet-dance while miming to Sammy Davis Jr singing ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ as his choreographed kill-squad batter the would-be avenger who is coming to claim his prize. It’s edited like a visual and aural mosaic, with some pieces (like a John Leguizamo cameo) that just don’t fit, and constantly breaks off making interesting points to deliver more eyekicks – it gets a cheap laugh from Kable killing Society character Rick Rape (Milo Ventimiglia), just as Angie is about to be piloted through a sex scene with him, but never deals with the fact that he was just as much a victim/puppet as she was, and so the unjustly-convicted Kable actually is a murderer.
An injection of adrenaline straight to the eye – which isn’t entirely a bad thing. But it probably isn’t a lot of folks’ idea of fun either.