The latest from Neveldine and Taylor, the brain trust behind the Crank series, Gamer serves as a similarly over-caffeinated mishmash of hyper-kinetic action. Still, it stands out from its predecessor thanks to a willingness to at least consider some sort of broader cogent idea beyond the promulgation of an adrenaline rush. In spite of the standard confusing camerawork, filled as it is with quick cuts and aggressive swish pans while being overloaded by frenetic seizure-inducing visuals and some serious narrative holes, the film, while unsuccessful, does inspire a small measure of appreciation for its willingness to go to some strange places.
Gerard Butler, he of the stoic burly man demeanor, stars as death row prisoner Kable. It’s some point in the near future, with the world seized by the inventions of Silicon Alley billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). He’s created the ultimate “Sims” experience, games called “Society” and “Slayers.” In the former, actual live humans sign up to be controlled by other live humans, who seem most interested in making their avatars perform lightweight S&M and other predictable, pandering sexual acts (rarely do two women go by without making out). In the latter game, a real world first person shooter that Kable finds himself stuck in, players sign up to control death row inmates in chaotic, splatter fest battles. If the inmate survives 30 such competitions, he’s a free man.
When not overwhelming the audience with their video game theatrics the filmmakers offer several unique stylistic conceits. “Society,” with its participants slathered in lavish, loud colors and demented faux-60s or scantily clad getups, has a sort of ratcheted up psychedelic appeal. There’s a stark immediacy to the world of “Slayers” and Death Row, stripped of all but the grimmest most washed out whites and grays, with all the signs of a post-industrial wasteland strewn across the former. Additionally, though Butler maintains a perpetually stony face and co-stars Kyra Sedgwick, Alison Lohman and John Leguizamo seem completely out of place, Hall, of Dexter fame, plays the sort of charismatically sleazy villain that might have been remembered were he featured in a different movie.
Despite that performance, the stabs at topical relevance wrapped up in the premise and the trashy pop culture look Gamer exists for one reason and one reason only: to provide loud, earsplitting video game violence with a sexist tinge. Disguised though it may be, the movie principally churns on the pop of machine guns, the crunch of bones being shattered and what it deems to be the perverse thrill of watching a wheelchair bound, morbidly obese man forcing Amber Valetta’s character to engage in some degrading behavior. Like Crank, which featured an explicit public sex scene between Jason Statham and Amy Smart, the movie stakes its conventionality on the belief that this sort of quasi-exploitive, gutter bound stuff plays much better than it does.
The action scenes are a giant blurry glob of explosions, sudden attacks and spontaneous graphic deaths. Despite having two movies to practice, the filmmakers still have no idea how to direct a set piece with a cogent sense of spatial relations or any semblance of fluidity. The flickering screen, third-person game perspective and overreliance on rapid montage turn much of the picture into a significant endurance test. Neveldine and Taylor know nothing of subtlety, so the preponderance of screens of all shapes and sizes, including those surrounding Kable’s player Simon (Logan Lerman) in a giant bubble, serve to drive home their critique of the overly controlled technological world their characters inhabit with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer. The kitchen sink method of filmmaking remains their preferred approach and Gamer, like Crank before it, overwhelms its audience, and not in a commendable way.