Saturday, September 5, 2009

No Champion, 'Gamer' Receives Average Final Score

No one will argue that there aren’t thousands of great ideas sizzling inside the brains of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the masterminds behind the Crank series.

Gamer, the duo’s third directorial feature, and first one outside of the Crank series, is the first attempt by the two to bring their staple brand of dizzying and most of the time implausible style of action together with some semblance of a plot other than the life or death situation faced by Jason Statham in both Crank films.

Set in the future, say the year 2034, in a world where mind-control technology is the number one form of escapism, Gamer focuses on a new type of video game called “Slayers”, which allows death row inmates their chance to receive a pardon. Kable (Gerard Butler) is only a few battles away from the unprecedented release, but the brains behind the technology, Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), has other things in mind.

Up until this point the Neveldine/Taylor combination has made a name for itself on original ideas and a highly unique way of presenting them. Crank, as outlandish and absurd as it may be, has given us some of the more refreshing action cinema to come out in the last few years.

The one true problem with Gamer is that while there are a few of those original ideas to be found, the whole thing just leaves you feeling slightly unimpressed. The futuristic vision of the next level of video games and game shows concepts have been done many times before, it’s a true and tried genre. Perhaps most memorably with The Running Man, in which convicted criminals also must escape death, and David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, in which a virtual video game world is entered through a bio-organic device. Whichever film you decide to reference, parallels can be greatly drawn, and Gamer hardly improves on them.

But I suppose it’s true that one of these types of films hasn’t been made lately, so the fresh and scathing satirizing from Neveldine/Taylor is very welcome. A tongue-in-cheek look at the obsessions and negative impact of technology like these comes in the form of an even more advanced version of popular websites like Second Life and console applications like Playstation 3’s Home. This gives the film its only break from the rest of the film’s more serious tone and super dark photography, as it seems like the rest of the world lives under an umbrella, and they only battle when it’s cloudy out.

And ah yes, that plot Neveldine and Taylor have been working on. It’s not that good. Okay well let me put it this way, it doesn’t really add much. Kable’s hopeful attempt to win the battles, get out of prison, find solace in revenge and return to his wife and daughter is hardly impacting and a rather conventional motive.

That action is another thing though. It’s good, not great and chock full of a huge body count, but with the way Neveldine/Taylor direct their films you sometimes can’t get a full spectrum of what exactly is going on. Yeah you see shattering explosions, guns shooting, people dying and blood splashing but it’s mostly done so in a frantic frenzy.

It’s all so gritty, depraved and brutal but yeah, I’ll admit it, also enjoyable. How many times can Gerard Butler kill an inmate is the real question of Gamer. Everything moves fast as light and makes for action sequences, while intentionally disorientating, loads of fun.

Much like the plot, the characters are kind of a bore. Butler’s Kable is just a brooding hulk of a man bent on revenge and the way Ludacris says the word game reminds me only of Allen Iverson’s classic press conference years back. Thankfully Michael C. Hall, best known for his role on Dexter, is the saving grace, breathing some hilarious life into his role as the disgustingly rich and popular brains behind “Slayers”, Ken Castle, a slithering snake of an evil man.

Regretfully, Gamer is stuck somewhere in cinema purgatory. It’s not quite equal to the piece of gum I stepped on along my way into the theater, and it certainly doesn’t exude a top of the line futuristic thriller vibe. The action is bloody and the presentation is gritty but the few developing ideas about society that Neveldine/Taylor had are never able to help the film out when all that other stuff is top priority.

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