Mark Reviews Movies


˝ Star (out of 4)

Directors: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

Cast: Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Amber Valletta, Kyra Sedgwick, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Logan Lerman, Alison Lohman

MPAA Rating: R (for frenetic sequences of strong brutal violence throughout, sexual content, nudity and language)

Running Time: 1:35

Release Date: 9/4/09

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Gamer is, in the simplest terms, an assault on the brain that doesn't have one in its own head. I'd say its cobbled-together story, brutal violence, and stylistic excess are comparable to a video game, but that would be an insult to some games (and I'm not being sarcastic, as there are definitely games that are the result of coming to grips with narrative and learning to channel the medium into something relatively fulfilling).

No, this is a systematically mind-numbing and sometimes painful experience. That directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (credited as "Neveldine/Taylor" for branding purposes (Two directors for the price of one?)) are sure of themselves is never in doubt. That confidence goes in hand with competence, though, is not always the case. For evidence, look no further than Gamer.

The movie wants to say something about the communications industry and its apparent movement toward a sort of universal hub—a one-stop means by which we can communicate with everyone, even going as far as to literally control another human being's every action—but, as presented here, it comes across as shallow techno-phobia.

It wants to say something about the media's obsession with the darker nature of humanity and how the populace continually feeds it (or vice versa), but the movie plays right into its own statement, certainly giving us all kinds of violence but without providing any worthwhile context.

It definitely wants to say something about power and control (one character argues that some people want to be controlled, which, by conducting a quick, informal poll, I think most of us would discover that, given the option, people would rather be in control). The gimmicky premise, about players being able to direct real people in an all-out gunfight or "simulation" of the real world, complete with a megalomaniacal media mogul as the villain, is really nothing more than an artificial setup with a cookie-cutter villain.

Take all of these missed thematic opportunities, throw in a plot setup that's been rehashed too many times to count (criminals on death row given a chance to fight for their freedom to the delight of millions of viewers), and let Neveldine and Taylor toss in every stylistic flourish they've ever imagined, and there is really no end to the brain-drain until one walks out of the theater. If someone wants to think about the movie, it may even be a few hours afterwards.

The directors fling every trick in the book up to the screen, hoping something will stick. Nothing does. They the camera upside-down as the Slayers exit a tunnel to their arena (all of which look exactly the same—bland, urban chaos). They use strobe effects as the criminals ride the bus to and from the battle. Quick cuts are soon juxtaposed with slow-motion close-ups of hands, eyes, and whatever else they think makes it dreamlike. Brutal bloodshed is set against a somber piano piece.

One the movie's lower key scenes takes place in a rave. Something is off there. Everything is present, and none of it works except as a blatant show-off.

What it's showing off isn't worth attention either. The plot in a nutshell: Kable (Gerard Butler) is a death row inmate, given the opportunity to battle for his freedom on a game called "Slayers," which is aired around the world to the enjoyment of millions of viewers. The catch: Kable's every action is controlled by a teenager (Logan Lerman).

Kable's nemesis (apart from the other inmates) is Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), the villainous CEO who has developed the technology to control other people and is making a fortune on it, and Kable, naturally, has a wife and daughter waiting for him on the other side. There's a conspiracy to his imprisonment, too, but that should also be a given.

What isn't a given are really out-of-touch surreal moments that come across as lazy-day Lynch. Scenes involving Castle's real-world "simulation" are too flashy to be creepy (and the moments that get there are simply off-putting), a contestant singing "I've Got No Strings" is just dumb, and it's best not to talk about Castle and his goons doing a forehead-smacking, choreographed puppet-dance/fight while Castle lip-syncs Sammy Davis Jr.'s rendition of "I've Got You Under My Skin."

For all its moments of oddity, though, Gamer takes itself far too seriously, saying nothing of timeliness or value in a banally overblown fashion.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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