“Gamer” is a painfully bad film founded on a painfully bad premise that doesn’t seem in any way, shape, or form complete. Don’t make the mistake of believing it’s a commentary on the media and violence in society; if the filmmakers were truly concerned with sending an actual message, they wouldn’t have borrowed so freely from far better developed films like “The Matrix,” “Rollerball,” “The Running Man,” or even the terrible “Death Race.” No, this movie lives up to its name by behaving like a meaningless, mindless video game, brutally assaulting the senses with lots of action, lots of violence, and lots of grimy, surreal imagery that can’t be explained. Is there a plot? Yes, but it was either edited out of all comprehension or not entirely thought through during the writing process. In other words, the finished film is completely dead from the neck up.
Describing the plot will require a lot of conjecture on my part, but that’s to be expected when you’re left with more questions than answers. In the not too distant future, a mind-controlling technology too preposterous to explain enables video games to be played like never before, giving gamers the ability to control real people instead of computer-generated images. The most popular of these games is an online death match called “Slayers,” in which actual death row inmates are forced to fight for survival on bombed out city streets. Each inmate believes that they will win their freedom if they survive thirty matches. The most popular of these online inmates is John Tillman, nicknamed Kable (Gerard Butler), who’s being controlled by Simon Silverton (Logan Lerman), a seventeen-year-old boy who must come from an extremely rich family, given the impressive computer technology he’s surrounded by every minute of every day.
Would it surprise you to learn that Kable is wrongly imprisoned and motivated by finding his wife and daughter? While sitting in his cell one night, a mysterious woman slips a picture of them through the slot, and warns him that the game’s mastermind plans to have him killed. Here enters Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), an eccentric billionaire whose Southern accent is second only to an arrogance the likes of which I’ve rarely seen. Only a character this self-absorbed would have the conceit to break into a song-and-dance number just before the film’s final showdown. Only directors like Neveldine/Taylor, whose own “Crank: High Voltage” was audacious fun, would have the conceit to believe that a song-and-dance number would actually work in this kind of film.
Anyway, we eventually learn that Kable’s wife, Angie (Amber Valletta), is trapped in another online game called “Society,” where sins of the flesh are the main attraction. With the help of Humanz, a renegade hacker group led by Humanz Brother (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Kable is able to sever his connection with Simon and go rescue his wife. This, naturally, raises questions as to how it’s possible for game characters to wander from one game to another and where these separate games are located and why players don’t seem to live anywhere near these locations, but never mind–the last thing this movie bothers with is trying to explain itself. I can only assume the game locations are situated in some quarantined area of the country and that some futuristic technology is required to keep these areas secret.
There comes a point when Castle reveals something about himself, which then raises even more questions about the nature of his mind-control technology and exactly who’s playing who. To reveal more would be pointless and subtracting, and so would describing any more of this plot. Do you know what it’s like watching a video game when someone else is playing? You have no control over what you’re seeing or what happens. Now imagine watching someone else play a video game after three or four levels have already been completed; not only is the game not in your control, but you also have no idea what’s going on and what the objective is. This is exactly what watching “Gamer” is like. You see all this action and visual spectacle but are unable to make sense of anything.
The only actor who seemed to understand what he was dealing with was Michael C. Hall, whose performance is so bad it’s as if he knew the film couldn’t be taken seriously. The man hams it up so thoroughly that I came to the conclusion it was intentional on his part. The same can’t be said for Gerard Butler, Luracris, Kyra Sedgwick, Amber Valletta, Alison Lohman, or even John Leguizamo as a creepy inmate who, like a storyteller, observes everything around him. They must not have known what to make of this film. I know exactly where they’re coming from. Given the nature of the story, I can only assume that an actual video game will be made out of “Gamer.” If that happens, let us hope, for the sake of the players, it will include a fully realized plot that can be followed.
– Chris Pandolfi (www.GoneWithTheTwins.com)