Friday, September 4, 2009

Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor's Gamer (2009)

A city is littered with iconography of its currently three celebrities: Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), who is the creator of the most popular new game software, Slayers; Kable (Gerard Butler), who is currently the top hero in the Slayers world; and Simon (Logan Lerman), rich kid and video game wunderkind who controls Kable in the gamer zone. Yep, this is the future and this is Gamer (2009), directed by duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.Butler's Kable is actually Tillman, a death row inmate who has volunteered to play the Slayers game in order to win his freedom. Skipping over this serious ethics issue, the federal government is funding the game with support of the population by a majority vote, so Hall's Castle sees no problems with the game: it's what the folks want. How does it work? Castle created a cell-transference system in the brain via chip, which allows a remote user to control the actions of an actual live-person in real-time game play. Real human players, real guns, and real kills. The prototype for Slayers, which is also equally popular, is a Sims-like game entitled Society, where remote users can control and play as others in an interactive environment. However, Society is not a sweet world like Sims: it's more an online orgy, where folks can dress up their humans as play toys, hit the streets, and pick up strangers for a little ooh-la-la. Kable's a play or two away from winning his freedom; but Castle's about to stop that streak. There's an underground resistance, the Humanz, to Castle's software empire, who know Castle's secret.
Science-fiction films set in the future have a lot of back story and rules, like a video game, but Neveldine and Taylor start Gamer with a fantastic battle scene beginning, beyond the iconic opening montage. The game zone is a rugged rubbled inner city, littered with debris and multiple places for killers to hide. In a nifty sequence, Kable atop the stairs after an intense firefight below, spies during a quiet moment the game's goal. Butler's Kable hears approaching footsteps coming up the stairs but cannot himself move. He mutters, "Turn me around." His user, who is a stellar player, takes out the approaching foes, as Kable takes a sigh of relief before he's blown out the window. A delay in the gaming: the viewer knows immediately that the human pawns might not be able to control their movements but they certainly can feel pain and especially fear. Gamer is a media-driven world and is evocative of previous influential science-fiction films such as Paul Michael Glaser's The Running Man (1987), Paul Verhoeven's Robocop (1987) and Total Recall (1990). Gamer shares The Running Man's theme of bloody and real violence as popular entertainment which reaps massive amounts of cash for its corporate heads. Neveldine and Taylor take Verhoeven's approach to their media sequences: they're biting and satirical takes on our own current culture. Gamer doesn't come off as derivative though: as the Crank films show, this duo has their own acerbic and twisted wit, often playful and perverse. For example, the Society sequences are a highlight. The imagery is culled from glossy music videos, magazines, and adult films. The participants look like Michael Ninn models, and the action is shot from the user's (or viewer's) p.o.v. The user's twisted and disgusted little minds are played out, and Neveldine and Taylor don't hide it. The flesh, flashiness, and the sex are rolled out against a backdrop of quick cuts and tight shots: it ain't supposed to be sexy but shown as it is: commercial and cold. The internet community takes quite a few hits, too, in some truly comical sequences. Rich kid Simon gets multiple video instant messages as a current gaming celebrity with a standout one being British twins. "Hey Simon, want to see our tits?" Yep. It's nice to see you too.
Gamer behind the backdrop of a virtual and media environment has some human touches. Of course, Butler's Kable's is the film's hero with a tragic past which plays out as the story progresses. However, a small touch which I thought initially would be incidental involves Kable's fellow inmate, Freek, played fantastically by John Leguizamo. I thought Freek would be the chatterbox sidekick to Butler's Kable, but his character is really a heartfelt touch to the violent action. This addition was a plus. The action scenes are phenomenal, and Neveldine and Taylor bring their Crank blend of visual and audio tricks: multiple styles are employed for both the look and the sound and it's intoxicating and a sensory overload. Some of the visual and audio tricks are from video game imagery but most are true filmic compositions and very well-done. Hall as Cable is fantastic as the software mogul; and Butler is more than credible as an action star. Kable's a man of few words and intense action.

Gamer is intense fun. The sometimes nasty and perverse vibe and seriously bloody action takes this one out of light summer fare and into darker territory. Gamer won't appeal to everybody but it certainly did to me.


Heavenztrash said...

This sounds like one I might check out at the theater. I was on the fence about it, but you've just about got me convinced to give it a try. =) Great review!

Mr.LargePackage said...

I am definitely going to check this one out. Great review. I don't think anyone will ever top this one-liner: here is sub-zero, now, just plain zero. If gamer is half as entertaining as the running man, I know I will be a happy camper. And that is large and in charge.

Emily said...

I'm definitely intrigued. My video gaming ended when Genesis went out of style, but I still find the idea fascinating. Cronenberg's eXistenZ (or some capitalisation like that) kept me thinking for days, so add Michael C. Hall to a Running Mannish concept and I'm in.

Hans A. said...

Thnx all for reading and commenting. This one is definitely not for all tastes but if you enjoy your action with an edgy take, then Gamer's gold.

Matt-suzaka said...

This is a film that is right up my alley and it is a nice confirmation that you enjoyed it, Hans. It also kinda sounds like the 90's video game horror movie, Brain Scan, which is a wicked guilty pleasure of mine!

Unfortunately, Gamer came out at the worst time possible, with a slew of films coming out at the same time that could be considered aimed at almost the same target audience. Sucks, it isn't playing in any of the very few theaters near me, let alone probably not even playing anywhere by now with its poor opening numbers. Just have to wait for the DVD I guess.

Great review, Hans!

Emily said...

Just watched it and wow, spot-on review Mr. Hans. Some of the action scenes grated on my nerves a tad, but I genuinely enjoyed what the film went for and think it worked most of the time. I figured Michael C. Hall would be great, since he does such excellent work elsewhere, but it was super to see him get to cut loose here.

Fantastic work!

Ty said...

Enjoyable action flick! Happy you liked it too. All my friends thought it was bad.

Loved the double neck snap Butler did to Crews towards the end.