Lowdown: The story of a real life first person shooter.
Gerard Butler seems to be everywhere nowadays with Gamer being just one of many of his film appearances. In Gamer he takes on the role normally reserved to Jason Statham: the action figure specializing in kick ass manoeuvres and killing more and faster using hi-tech sex appeal. Coupled with rough edges, unshaved looks and the occasional silly joke, Butler makes quite a good Statham for directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, themselves Statham veterans (Crank and Crank High Voltage). One can only wonder whether the real thing was otherwise engaged at the time Gamer was shot.
Set in the near future, Gamer tells us of a grim world in which a billionaire that puts Bill Gates in his small pocket (portrayed by Dexter’s Michael C. Hall) establishes a virtual gaming world with a twist: Instead of playing virtual characters in a virtual world through your computer, people are playing other real people whom they control through their computer through nano implants in their characters’ brains. You can imagine the sleaze taking place in this not so virtual world!
For advanced gamers, Hall offers an even bigger experience (that is very similar to the concept offered in Statham’s Death Race): the players can control real people in first person shooter like competitions for survival, only that the shooting and the killing is for real. The controlled characters are death row inmates fighting for the promise of a pardon, presumed to take place after their 30th successful game. No one managed to survive this long before, but Butler is pretty close; can he make it? Will he be able to make it, hindered by having to subdue his talents to his human controller? Or can Butler (who is obviously innocent) break free from this gladiator regime enforced by Hall, and – in the process – expose the reality behind this charade?
I have a basic problem with the idea behind Gamer. It’s not that I doubt people have the potential to stoop so low as to control others into doing things they wouldn’t dare do themselves; it’s just that I suspect it would be much cheaper to create a gaming environment feeling just as real through other means, such as drugs or virtual reality. Still, Gamer’s setting serves to make a fine point on the nature of human beings to do wrong, which is to be praised.
The problem with Gamer, however, is that while it could have been a science fiction class act of Total Recall levels with its idea and its kick-ass action, it fails to realize its potential. Instead of aiming high, Gamer always goes for the cheap thrill: instead of exploring the events that could take place in this semi-virtual universe we have to settle for flashes of exposed breasts. Instead of properly orchestrated action scenes we have to settle with loads of fast camera action and quick editing that leave the viewer puzzled (however, given Gamer’s predictability, you can rely on the baddie being the one that’s dead at the end of the scene).
Instead of coming up with a proper cinematic statement, our duo of directors came up with an extra long 90 minute video clip featuring action, boobs and sleaze. The end result is not even half as good as Crank, simply because Crank had no serious aspirations whatsoever.
Worst scenes: An obese guy controls Butler’s sexy wife through some dubious acts. At first the concept is interesting, but when it’s repeated again and again you start asking yourself why the filmmakers chose this particularly ugly character and why they use him so often. In my opinion it’s just an example of Gamer always choosing the cheapest option rather than the thought provoking one.
Technical assessment: A good Blu-ray overall. The picture is detailed but the colors feel unnatural, while the sound is aggressive and detailed but not quite refined.
Overall: I’ll be kind to Gamer and give it 2.5 out of 5 stars, but I will add that the missed opportunity it represents has left me annoyed. What could have been a seriously spectacular science fiction film has ended up a cheap predictable thrill.