usually when critics say a movie is like a video game, what they really mean is that the movie lacks story, substance, buildup, characters, and instead focusing solely on the action scenes with hyper editing in tact. while all those things may be true for gamer, it does nevertheless provides an overall decent entertaining viewing experience.
i don’t know if it’s because of video game movie month but i enjoy gamer way more than i thought i would. it’s from the filmmaking team composed of mark neveldine and brian taylor, or neveldine/taylor if you’re in the know, the team responsible for the crank movies (gamer was shot between crank 1 and crank 2 but released after both cranks), the jonah hex screenplay, and the upcoming ghost rider: spirit of vengeance (in 3d!).
on sites that some people care about like metacritic, gamer is worse than all the above mentioend movies (yes, including jonah hex). on rotten tomatoes, gamer is slightly better than the first ghost rider movie and jonah hex, but apparently not as good as the two crank movies. all that means to me is that those sites are meaningless and that sites like us need to exist. so if you are happy that starbucks is your sole coffee provider, having one major video store, one major book store, one big cell phone company, or if you are content with everything being categorized into either fresh or rotten without further explanations, you should probably stop reading now. if armond white prevents your fanboy favorites from getting 100% fresh and it upsets you, you probably shouldn’t have read this far.
if you’re still with me, you can tell i’m in a defensive mode here. here are a few more confessions: i have only seen crank 1 even though crank 2 has been on my instant queue for a long time, and i didn’t really like crank 1 as much as i wanted to. i am also not a what people called “hardcore gamer,” whatever that means. gamer is not based on any actual games but it’s more videogame-ish than any movies based on video games i’ve ever seen. i’m pretty sure that’s considered irony. i think it may be important but i’m about the same age as neveldine/taylor.
with all its zips and zooms and flashes, you can tell before the opening credits (set to marilyn manson’s cover of eurythemics’ sweet dreams) is over whether you would like gamer or not. it tells the story of kable, aka tillman (gerard butler), as a death row convict (wrongfully accused of course) forced to play a game where he’s controlled by fame gamer simon, a 17-year-old kid. the game is run by computer genius/ media mogul ken castle (michael c “dexter” hall), kind of a bill gates/ted turner mixture. he even has the southern accent. kable is three games away from being free but unless, of course, castle has anything to say about it. and he does.
kable of course, has some kind of backstory where he wants to get his family back. while kable is forced to play some kind of online action first/third person shooter, his wife (amber valletta from transporter 2) is making money by being controlled in a sims/second life type game. i like the idea that everyone in the world either pay to control or get paid to be controlled. there are also hints of youtube and chat roulette. it saids “some years from this exact moment” but for some reason netflix decided it’s the year 2034.
what we have here is essentially the running man with bits of tron, death race, and rollerball thrown in. filmed with redone digital cameras, gamer is made to look like a video game on purpose, with the cameras going anywhere neveldine/taylor wants. most complaints about the movie’s a.d.d. editing and framing. while i have also complained about this post action type style in other movies, it somehow works here fittingly. neveldine/taylor manage to come up with enough tricks to make the movie interesting and entertaining for the majority of its 94 minutes. it isn’t until the third act when the movie requires some kind of direction and resolution that the film loses a bit of its energy and showing its lack of logic.
i think it also helps that the film is actually about video games. these stylistic choices hinder other movies, the ones where you have actual martial artists or try to have some kind of drama or characters.
another thing that helps is that i don’t know if it’s intentional, but with its familiar premise, they didn’t try to add too much to the story. so the styles doesn’t lead to confusion or get in the way of the narrative. it’s just about enough plot to support a hour and a half stylistic exercise. i don’t think you can say the same thing about the transformers movies, 300, or some of the scott brothers movies. and unlike those movies, you don’t feel that a better movie was sacrificed for the sake of style. it makes more sense here stylistically than say, domino, or armageddon, which as far as i know, are not about video games at all, even though they look like one. it’s a rare case where these post action techniques and editing styles are actually called for. i do wish they were more disciplined and only used those flashes and cuts during the game scenes.
i don’t remember crank 1 very well but gamer seems like a even hyperier version of crank. like that earlier movie, there are plenty of unguarded sex, violence and bad jokes. and they work better and less unintentionally funny than crank 1. i don’t think many filmmakers out there would bother to set up and deliver a joke involving nut butter. there’s a part where butler’s character drinks a bottle of vodka and than later makes himself puke and urinate into the gas tank to start a car. i also like the requisite fat slob gamer that we see intermittently throughout the movie, but there is a bit of unexpected poignancy to this seemingly irrelevant character in his last scene. they managed to one up south park by not using him merely as a punchline.
butler is more or less the bland humorless muscle man, kind of a one note russell crowe. the star here, other than the filmic techniques, is michael c. hall’s villain. he gives one of those outlandish bad-guy-in-action-movie performance that you relish his every move, gesture, and line delivery without hamming it up into overacting or so-bad-it’s-good travolta territory. earlier when i said the energy drops a bit in the third act, but now that i think about it, there’s also this scene right before the finale, where they reference enter the dragon. it’s so delightful because it’s so unexpected, especially in an action movie. so um…spoilers i guess.
seriously, don’t click if you plan on seeing the movie.
in addition to butler, dexter, and valletta, quite a few famous actors show up in the movie, though most of them are nothing more than cameos. kyra sedgwick (singles) plays a talk show host, john leguizamo as a mental inmate, alison lohman (matchstick men, drag me to hell) as a hacker, terry crews as an angry black man, keith david as an investigator, and zoe bell, a real life stuntwoman, has a couple scenes that could have been played by any random extra.
for a video game movie by the director of the crank movies, gamer well exceeds my expectations. i was either smiling or grinning at its bravado most of the time. it’s more energized and entertaining that most movies based on actual video games.
and if we’re willing to pretend that the star wars movies, avatar or enter the void reaches some kind of filmic artistic triumphs, i don’t think we can simply discard gamer as trash. the screenplay here is just as secondary as those two while the technology, styles and techniques are the main selling points. neveldine/taylor has just the kind of energy and zaniness that was lacking at the helm of drive angry, and after watching gamer, i’m more excited about what they would bring to the table working with someone like nic cage in ghost rider 2.
and just so you know what to expect, the role of morpheus is played by chris “ludacris” bridges.
here’s a longer and better written piece by another gamer defender: the pinocchio theory
gamer is available on netflix instant watch.