Lionsgate | USA | 95 minutes
With a depiction of a distant future that seems all too possible and enough explosions and mayhem to make even Michael Bay blush, Gamer provides its audience with a brilliantly executed scifi/action/thriller, not to mention some really thought-provoking social commentary. The writer/director team behind the extremely graphic and cult-popular Crank films, Neveldine/Taylor, is back and have brought their gritty style to a “bigger” budget and deeper story. The film will remind viewers of some of the classic Paul Verhoeven films like Robocop and Starship Troopers; a balls-to-the-wall action film with a much deeper meaning behind it. In the case of Gamer, a look at the dangers of a media-infested world, of nonstop advertisement and of the future of youth in a world with ever expanding interactive technology.
The film’s plot centers around a company run by billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), who’s created a game known as “Slayers.” The game gives its players full control of a living, breathing, death row inmate. If the inmate survives 30 sessions of the game they are set free. The star of the game is Kable (Gerard Butler), who has made it through 27 sessions and is on the fast track to reaching 30, which is unusual since no one else has ever made it past 10. When Castle realizes this he sets out on a mission to make sure that Kable never reaches the 30 mark.
After seeing Gamer I truly believe that the Crank films were just tests to see if Neveldine/Taylor could combine their visions on a small budget. Unlike a certain other action film that came out earlier this year that had a much bigger budget than its predecessor, Neveldine/Taylor use the $20 million they were given to create a world that fits their style. Also, unlike similar films about convicts fighting for their freedom, Death Race and *shakes head* The Condemned, Gamer allows us to see how everything came to be. In Death Race America needed money so we made a race to the death; not much lead up, just a wham-bam-thank you mam story. The elements behind Gamer, however, don’t start out the way they end up. Actually, this is where an interesting take on the RPG phenomenon comes into play and makes you question when it is OK to allow for zero boundaries.
Also, there are some great performances in the film. They are over-the-top and overblown but that is exactly what a film like this needs to work. Hall is perfect because he makes his character into a man who has everything and knows no limits. Because his character can quite nearly do anything, Hall can be as wacky and eccentric as he wants. In one of the film’s campiest (and most enjoyable) moments, we see just how screwed up in the head Castle really is. It is also nice to see a TV actor finally learn to break away from his usual character. You would never think that the guy in Gamer plays one of television’s most serious and darkest characters. Unlike someone like Jeremy Piven, for example, who will happily provide his Ari Gold-role in any one of his performances (a la The Goods).
Looking at the Verhoeven formula, Neveldeine/Taylor’s film succeeds because it hides the social commentary within some of the best action sequences ever choreographed. They are quick and dirty, providing just the right amount of mayhem so viewers are blown away but not turned away from the film. In this way, Gamer recalls Robocop, both stories about a corporation seizing control of man and his actions. Except now we, “the users,” are the ones fueling the corporation.
Not to mention it looks at the future of youth. Kable’s “player” is only 17 in the film and is inundated with more advertising in his bedroom than any of us have ever experienced in our life time. Also, there is a particularly poignant scene in which the young player actually sees why Kable is in prison in the first place. And though this is played out for him over and over again, he doesn’t even so much as twitch – completely desensitized to the idea of death and murder. If that isn’t a commentary on what things like gore websites and violent video games are doing to young minds then what is?
Gamer truly makes its audience question everything that is wrong with society today. And yes, it is also one of the best and most over-the-top action films of the last few years. Props to Neveldine/Taylor for bringing the over-the-top action film back to the old days when all the gore and violence meant something and wasn’t only for show. And for all those filmmakers (Rob Zombie and Paul W.S. Anderson to name a few) who just use the action as a spectacle, don’t forget that it is only improved by the subtle commentary it stands in front of.
8 out of 10
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