So did you see Death Race around this time last year? You know, the movie where Jason Statham is a death row inmate forced to participate in a brutal game in order earn his freedom, and is desperately trying to get back to his wife and daughter on the other side? Good. You can completely skip Gamer, a movie in which Gerard Butler is a death row inmate forced to participate in a brutal game in order to earn his freedom, and is desperately trying to get back to his wife and daughter on the other side.
Sure, neither of these movies are the first or the last to use a bleak future as an excuse to treat human beings as gun-wielding action figures. But it says a lot about Gamer that it pales in comparison to a Jason Statham schlockfest like Death Race, especially since it's directed by Neveldine and Taylor, the duo who made Jason Statham an unlikely geek icon with the Crank movies. For everything fun and over the top about a Crank movie, Gamer is a dull slog of endless action and sex, trying so hard to push the pleasure centers on the brains of its adolescent male audience that it wears itself, and the audience, out well before the end can blessedly come.
The movie's twist on the present is actually pretty clever, presenting a world in which everyone is obsessed with either The Sims or Halo, except you're actually playing with real people. Kable (Gerard Butler) is one of the death-row inmates forced to play a shooting game while being controlled by a teenager (Logan Lerman) who has achieved celebrity by getting Kable through more levels than any other inmate has before. Meanwhile Kable's wife (Amber Valletta) is essentially a pleasure model in the Sims game, manipulated by a fat guy at home and walking around in booty shorts and a series of wigs like a zombie.
Pulling all the strings is Michael C. Hall as a kind of Bill Gates from hell, who has framed Kable-- of course-- and doesn't actually plan to award him his freedom, as promised, after beating 30 levels of the game. And trying to bring down the Matrix, so to speak, is a rebel group led by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and a weirdly dreadlocked Alison Lohman, who snag Kable when he breaks free from the game and help him retrieve his wife and end the game for good.
There are so many absurd directions to go with this classic premise, and Neveldine and Taylor occasionally indulge in some out-there weirdness-- there are two musical numbers, for example, and the look of the Sims-esque world is so plucked from 90s rave culture (bright neons, furry jackets) that it could almost pass as a joke about the Internet game culture beginning in that era. Almost. But mostly Gamer focuses on shoot-em-up action that's cut so quickly it makes no sense, and indulgent shots of bare breasts and lesbian kissing that define the word "pandering." With the world of the two video games so poorly explained, it's hard to feel engaged in Kable's battles at all, and with no sense of stakes, the endless shots of heads blowing up and cars exploding feel repetitive rather than thrilling.
Hall and Kyra Sedgwick (as a slimy TV reporter) give campy performances that are fun but feel out of place, while Butler as the wronged man, Maximus-in-Gladiator type, is never asked to do anything but scowl. All in all the movie feels like a slog through an adolescent brain, where curse words have to be used in every sentence, breasts bared at every turn, and shooting someone in the head is the pinnacle of cool. I'm pretty sure any version of Grand Theft Auto would provide basically the same experience.