Reviewed by: Daniel Hooper

"The story may lack originality but the visual stylings and action go some way to making up for its shortfall."

After the videogame referencing Crank films, it seems to be a natural progression for directing duo Neveldine and Taylor to make gaming the subject of the latest film. Set in the ever-so-vague and not-too-distant future, Gamer features not one but two of the most sordid dystopias committed to film, worlds where virtual reality and real life mesh into one ugly whole. In the one world, death row inmates fight to the death for the chance of freedom, in a virtual reality game akin to a third-person shooter. The other vision is of a neo-hedonistic, larger than life version of Second Life/The Sims called Society, a retina-burning perverted metropolis.

If only the story was as interesting as the world it inhabits then this film would be a stone-cold winner - alas it is not. The ho-hum characterisation and plot follow wrongly convicted Death Row inmate Kable (a slightly wooden Gerard Butler), under the control of a 17-year-old kid, as he battles for his freedom in the game ‘Slayerz’, created by the controversial reclusive genius/mad man Roy Castle (Michael C Hall, having a lot of fun in this role). Meanwhile, Kable’s wife Angie (Amber Valetta) is forced into virtual prostitution to the pay the bills and their daughter has been adopted, which upon discovery forces Kable into some drastic action with the assistance of a terrorist group, the ‘Humanz’.

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The story may lack originality but the visual stylings and action go some way to making up for its shortfall, with highlights including an one of the better and most explosive car chases of recent years and an incredible choreographed fight/dance number. The steadycam in-game footage of Slayerz takes some getting used to, but give it time and the distinctive shooting style does feel appropriate. Needless to say, the violence and body count are brutal and excessive, even in comparison to the videogames Gamer is satirising, while the fetishistic sexuality shown is deeply repulsive. As lurid as these cheap thrills are, in Gamer’s dystopic vision they serve the purpose of presenting an amplification of the violent and seedy electronic culture we live in.

Gamer may not be quite the sum of its parts, a film full of interesting concepts which unfortunately seem at odds with the generic narrative -like a Philip K Dick novel minus the twisting storytelling - but it isn’t the no-star disaster other reviewers have dismissed it as. Gamer is a hyper-stylised product of Neveldine and Taylor rather than just an easily disposable generic action flick. While not as fun as the ingeniously gimmicky Crank films, it is a more ambitious narrative with some excellent action set pieces and, on the whole, leaves you feeling a little dirty after spending 95 minutes in it’s morally dubious environment. Better to feel disgusted than passive, I reckon.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2009
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In the near future, death row inmates fight in an online game for their survival.
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Director: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor

Writer: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor

Starring: Gerard Butler, Amber Valetta, Michael C Hall, Ludacris

Year: 2009

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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