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Entries in Gamer [2009] (1)

Tuesday
Sep082009

Gamer (2009)

Tonight We Game in Hell!

Gamer would be a much more effective movie about video games if it hadn’t been made for the people who play them—specifically the First Person Shooter crowd. Full disclosure: I haven’t been interested in video games since controllers expanded beyond two buttons. And while I appreciate their artistry, I never got the appeal of FPS’s, like Halo, or rampage fantasies like Grand Theft Auto (I’m fine taking out my manly aggressions on a keyboard, thank you very much). But I digress. The new Gerard Butler movie has grit and blood to spare, but after awhile the lack of developed ideas and uneven characterization lead to an experience not unlike watching someone else play poorly while waiting your turn.

The premise is intriguing. A few years into the future, a smarmy technical wizard named Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) has developed advanced virtual reality games that allow average people to control the lives and actions of real, flesh-and-blood volunteers. The first game, Society, is like The Sims, if the cute, chirping avatars were paid actors instead of pixel clusters—down to the ability of the user to program their wardrobe. Following that success, Castle created Slayers, in which the characters are convicted felons who must survive thirty rounds of intense urban warfare in order to win their freedom. Gamer centers on Kable (Butler), the only Slayer to last more than ten sessions.

Yes, the movie is a rather shameless rehash of both The Matrix and The Running Man—with a hint of Ender’s Game and a dash of Batman Forever—and directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor pile on the annoyance with headache-inducing quick-cuts and too many ‘splosions. Sorry if I sound like a cranky pensioner, but it’s obvious from the get-go that Gamer is one giant smokescreen, masking other people’s ideas. From the slimy TV reporter (Kyra Sedgwick) who’ll do anything for ratings, to the revelation that the convict may actually be innocent, to the what-is-reality navel-gazing, Gamer spins its wheels, albeit stylishly.

Which is a shame because the movie looks great; there are more ideas proposed in the set design than in the screenplay. Kable’s prison is a giant rock pit in the middle of the desert, from which the Slayers are bussed to their combat zones. His user, a seventeen-year-old snot named Simon (Logan Lerman), is mostly only shown in his bedroom, where he controls his corner of the Internet via a virtual cloud of pictures and data while reclining on a giant memory-foam pillow. In the “real” world, Kable’s wife, Angie (Amber Valletta), works as a Society character, her office a sort of sex-filled corporate skate park. I really enjoyed these glimpses into Gamer’s world, but these were too infrequent to warrant any emotion beyond frustration.

On the plus side, Michael C. Hall was a blast. This role is a clean break from the oddly reserved neurotics he’s played on Dexter and Six Feet Under. He affects a mad drawl and the Joker’s grin in a performance whose sheer evil joy goes far in convincing the audience that he’s more than a one-dimensional villain. Hall certainly has more fun than Butler, who shoots and scowls his way through a part that has even less weight than his Leonidas in 300.

In fact, the only fun to be derived from this movie is playing “Spot the Actor”. From HeroesMilo Ventimiglia to James Roday and Maggie Lawson from USA Network’s Psych, there are some bizarre cameos in this movie; it’s as if Gamer were itself a giant VR game that any actor could pop into. Hands-down, the best appearance came from Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman; keep your eyes peeled and you’ll see him.

I don’t mean to make Gamer sound completely unworthy of your time, but it’s a renter at best. Had the filmmakers cared enough to expound upon their ideas, the project might have been salvageable. Much like The Matrix, there’s a definite stopping point for the story that occurs way before the movie ends. And it leaves anyone in the audience who bothered to bring their brain with them yearning for closure on at least five different plot points. Maybe, as the friend with whom I saw this suggested, I’m expecting too much. But I’ve always maintained that if someone is getting paid more than a thousand dollars to write a screenplay, they should—at the very least—provide a solid beginning, middle, and end, and not assume that the shiny objects on screen will mollify everyone watching. Then again, this movie wasn’t made for me.