MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Sci-Fi Action/Stars: Gerard Butler, Amber Valletta, Michael C. Hall, Kyra Sedgwick, Logan Lerman, Ariana Scott, Terry Crews, Alison Lohman, Ludacris, Aaron Yoo, John Leguizamo, Zoë Bell, Mimi Michaels, Ashley Rickards, Jade Ramsey, Nikita Ramsey, Milo Ventimiglia, Jonathan Chase, Keith David, Joseph D. Reitman, John de Lancie, Lloyd Kaufman, James Roday Rodriguez, Maggie Lawson/ Runtime: 94 minutes
Sure it might be intriguingly relevant, but at the same time did it have to be so gosh darn familiar to other slices of cinematic pie of a similar ilk? I say this dear reader because the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 2009’s Gamer, is one that is another entry in a time-honored set up of putting convicts up against each other for the amusement of the world on either TV or the Web much like 2008’s Death Race or the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi gem The Running Man. With this one though, it takes this premise and applies it to the section of pop culture known as video games which results in this premise now seeing avid gamers be able to “play” as the convicts from the comfort of home. Suffice it to say that this, at least in terms of theory, is something that is genuine sci-fi at its finest as well as unnervingly believable to a distinct extent. Suffice it to say though that whilst yes Gamer does succeed in the areas that a slice of cinematic pie like this desperately needs to, but it still does come quite a bit undone when the bullets aren’t raining all over the place and in that respect plus some other flaws this slice of cinematic pie is unfortunately saddled with it feels by and large more like a tragically missed opportunity more than anything else.
The plot is as follows: In the near future, we see that a convict on death row by the name of Kable is a highly reluctant participant in a new video game known as Slayers. This video game is quite distinct in that it is a virtual reality-type game which involves placing armed to the teeth and deadly inmates in an active combat zone only to then be placed under the control of gamers across the planet courtesy of a chip that allows them to be operated only by their “player”. Should the inmate in question make it all the way through no less than 30 rounds of bullets and bloodshed then they are allowed to go free. This new form of mass entertainment might be supervised by the government, but we soon learn it is actually the brain child of a media tycoon by the name of Ken Castle. A man, it is worth noting, whose previous entry into this world known as Society is still a fairly strong performer and which entails people taking control of other people in another distinct environment only in this one they usually involve in malicious and quite debauchery-fueled acts more than anything. In other words: think The Sims, but for fetishists. Be that as it may be, we soon learn that the user who is operating our hero is a 17-year old kid by the name of Simon who, as our story gets underway, is in the middle of a global media storm since Kable is only a few matches away from being the first convict in the game to ever get his freedom back. Yet as Kable makes his way through this mess of bullets, bombs, and blood, we soon learn that not all is as it seems (big surprise) and it isn’t long before we see that another conflict is on the horizon in the “real world” courtesy of a below the surface group known as “Humanz” who desire to expose Castle for the monster that they claim he really truly is. Thus it is up to our hero, and his user, to figure out who’s telling them the truth and who they wish to fight for should they not only wish to earn Kable his freedom, but for both to just stay alive period.
Now right off the bat it should be noted that Gamer does have the ingredients necessary to help give it the chance to be a distinct entry in the world of science fiction cinema. Indeed much like some of the finest the genre has had to offer audiences, this slice of cinematic pie takes modern day dilemmas and develops them in such a manner whilst also placing them in a world that is futuristic, but also one that feels very much like the present in order to make a statement about how things are in the here and now by showing the errors that could result if we continue down our current path. In the case of this film, I think it can be said that the movie is intimately familiar with how much people love reality TV to say nothing of games like the aforementioned Sims as well as Fortnite and Minecraft where people are represented by fictional avatars and then utilize said avatars not only to get away from the day to day for a little bit, but also find themselves becoming completely and utterly hooked to a world where every action has no fallout whatsoever in reality. Indeed whereas the video games from the 80s and 90s such as the PS1 Crash Bandicoot games gave audiences a way to enjoy themselves in a decent size dose due to a simplistic narrative, a riveting yet not fully immersive world, and gameplay that really was the dictionary definition of repetition (I mean seriously how many Wampa fruit can one bandicoot eat?), we have seen technology transform to the point that audiences can now have 2 distinct lives: one in the world of the game and one in the real world to such an extent that as their life in the former dramatically flourishes, their life in the latter is coming constantly and dangerously close to crashing and burning.
Much to the detriment of this slice of cinematic pie though, it doesn’t really ever take advantage of such a riveting and topical narrative. Rather, this slice of cinematic pie chooses to put a lot more of an emphasis on its action beats. Thank goodness then that this film’s helmers Mr.’s Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have shown that they are actually capable directors in regards to giving the movie goer this energized and bullet-riddled locale so vividly to life. To that extent then, Gamer gives off the vibe of being more in the vein of something that is superficial and the rest of the narrative is just there to fill the prerequisite of a run of the mill narrative of having something to construct the action beats around. Now in an ideal world, this slice of cinematic pie would be able to give equal emphasis to both the action beats and the social commentary at the heart of the narrative. In this world though, the more timely subject matter is dealt with in such a befuddled manner that it all but deserts the very well done action beats with nothing to support them. As for why this is the case, I think it can be said that one of the main reasons for how this issue has come to be in this particular film is because of messily the movie works with its thematic concepts. By that I mean this is one film that is fairly predictable no matter what point of the narrative we are at. Indeed there is not an ounce of neither suspense nor gravitas behind any of the various twists and turns that come up during this movie’s runtime. However, as I touched on earlier in this review, the more integral dramatic components don’t really seem as necessary to the action beats in this as they should have been. Suffice it to say then that while this slice of cinematic pie is one that does seem to want to have a little bit of fun in regards to those who play the kinds of games that are in the same vein as the one at the core of this slice of cinematic pie, but is unable to figure out how to do so in a way that is both insightful and meaningful.
Ah well if nothing else at least the action beats in this film are ones that are fun and fairly well executed. Indeed Gamer is one that is so riveting and over the top in terms of action that I feel this movie would have fared a lot better if it were simply a 90+ minute shootout instead of one that tried to cram in a tease of a much more immersive narrative that, if successfully pulled off, could have made this movie a much more insightful and contemplative piece than it turns out to be. From a visual perspective, this slice of cinematic pie is also quite well done as we see that the world of the games in this film are phenomenal. Indeed the locale in Slayers definitely looks the part complete with rubble, blood, and guts as far as the eye can see whereas the one in Society definitely looks how you think it does with very vivid colors and an ultra-fantastical world of flesh, narcotics, leather, and other fetish components that are part and parcel of that particular landscape. However, with that out of the way, it should be noted that it’s Society’s locale that really is a detriment to this film. I mean for how unflinchingly brutal and ruthless as Slayers can be, the world of Society is just way too much for one film to handle even if everything about it is aiming to try to and aid the film in getting across its intended message. Finally, it should also be noted that despite the presence of a dependable cast in this, the acting on this is fairly one note even if everyone in this is at least trying to keep things lively. Yet aside from perhaps Butler who plays his part fairly straight, everyone in this movie decides to play their respective roles with a degree of over-the-top which is fairly spot-on due to both the tempo and tone at work within this film.
All in all the slice of cinematic pie that is Gamer is one that has a riveting idea at its core only to have said idea completely negated by an execution that has more than its fair share of problems attached to it. Yes the action beats in this are fairly well done, but this movie’s chance to have a much more immersive narrative is completely and buried under a mountain of used ammo, a barely there narrative, mehhh work in fleshing out the characters, and story beats that are the very dictionary definition of predictable. Suffice it to say this is one movie that never decides to journey to a point where this material might have been a bit more meaningful like the best of the best in this iconic genre of movie magic and instead gives off the vibe that this is a film that, despite having certain ingredients nailed, is otherwise chaotically put together without considering that this could have been so much more than it what it ultimately has turned out to be. On a scale of 1-5 I give Gamer “09” a solid 2.5 out of 5.