Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
September 2009

Off target

'Gamer' ignores its strengths, gets bogged down in frenzied, bland action

Lionsgate Films
Director: Neveldine/Taylor
Screenplay: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Amber Valletta, Chris Bridges, Terry Crews, Kyra Sedgwick and Alison Lohman
Rated R / 1 hour, 35 minutes
(out of four)

If only Gamer weren't an action movie. Then maybe we could have gotten down to what it's all about.

Then again, that's no guarantee it would have been any better, but at least it woulda had a fighting chance. What the movie offers is our current culture, unleashed - the faux-anonymity shrouded inside manufactured identities, avatars, proxies. All that we now live vicariously through.

In the future society of Gamer, the perks (plagues?) of the Internet age are blown up to their logical extremes. Thanks to mind-control technology, gamers can sit at home and control actual people, rather than digital facsimiles. Like Facebook, Second Life and The Sims all rolled into one, users can make their flesh-and-blood avatars do whatever they want.

All this exists in a practically omnipresent game called Society, the brainchild of billionaire tycoon Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). But his latest invention has grabbed even more worldwide attention - it's called Slayers, in which death-row inmates are put into real-life combat with a chance at a full pardon should they win 30 battles. The only rub is, they're at the mercy of whoever is controlling them.

That action-oriented premise is a natural leap for this type of universe - the problem is, it seems to get in the way of everything else instead of settling in as part of a larger whole.

We get some fabulously conceived (if not fully fleshed out) ideas within this hyperrealistic milieu - the user-controlled people shadowed by colorful, pop-up icons (not unlike an iChat window), spam e-mail come to life, the specter of an entire global community existing in varying degrees of virtuality.

But then the film falls back on its shoot-em-up intentions, laboring through the confines of genre even when its concepts are most interesting as they apply to non-action scenarios.

It would be nice to presume that we could have the best of both worlds, but filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor don't seem to have the attention span to make it happen. And so we focus primarily on Kable (Gerard Butler), a wrongfully accused convict who has become a cult figure by winning 27 battles in a row, just three short of earning his freedom.

In both its premise and satirical intentions, Gamer is similar to Death Race 2000 and The Running Man - and while it understands full well what it represents and what its cultural targets are (unlike, say, Paul W.S. Anderson's recent Death Race remake), too often it falls back on its more singular purpose of action-packed vengeance.

As presently constituted, Gamer just isn't the movie I think it wants to be - a literal representation of an increasingly virtual society, with all the voyeurism, anonymity, secrecy and existential implications that come with it. That movie will be made some day. It's almost inevitable. Hopefully it will have the curiosity such a conceit deserves.

Gamer is not that movie, but it brushes along the right territory. It gets most of its inspiration from video games of the shooter variety - not surprising considering this is the same filmmaking team that brought us the Crank movies.

But despite Neveldine and Taylor's obvious affection for, shall we say, the source material, they don't do a very good job of mimicking the experience of a video game. Instead, they rely on frantic, sometimes nonsensical camerawork - which I suppose is all well and good in Crank, when pure adrenaline is the driving factor of the plot and the experience of the movie. But in Gamer, we're seeing action scenes that are meant to be seen as a real-life video game, only we can't make out much of what's going on; when you're playing a video game, on the other hand, there's a complete clarity to the movement within your field of vision.

It's to Neveldine and Taylor's credit that they piqued my interest enough to have me wishing for much more. But even if the action had worked better, Gamer still would have felt like something of a wasted opportunity.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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