US Rating: R – Frenetic Sequences of Strong Brutal Violence Throughout, Sexual Content, Nudity, And Language
Film Length: 95 Minutes
Video: 1080P High Definition 16X9 - 1.85:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
“Yeah, Kable's the perfect soldier. He's a tactical killing computer. His only vulnerability is the nanex itself; the *ping*, the delay between Simon's commands and Kable's ability to execute.”
The Film: 3 out of 5
The list of films featuring concepts of humanity reaching deep into high-tech, low-brow ventures for entertainment can add another to its library. Gamer follows in the well-worn footsteps of actions movies like The Running Man, Death Race 2000 (and its more recent remake), and The Condemned – each telling tales of a future so off its moral compass that the most popular form of entertainment comes from prison inmates fighting to the death (by car, by gun, on an Island, etc) in a quest for victory which equals freedom.
As in each of the former incarnations of this particular premise, Gamer follows a wrongfully convicted man fighting to earn his freedom in the bloody confines of a globally televised sport called Slayers. Here, the man is Kable (Gerard Bulter), and he, like all his fellow gamers, is mind-controlled by game players – serving as an avatars in a war game, armed with machine guns, knives, and explosives, and at the mercy of civilians who have paid for the ability to control a flesh and blood death-row inmate in an effort to survive 30 battles. The creator of Slayers is Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), who became the globes wealthiest man after creating a real-life version of Sims called ‘Society’, where people strapped for cash allow themselves to be controlled by people with obviously too much, granting strangers permission (an obese, greasy pervert is one such individual) to move, contort, smack, and sexualize them any way they see fit.
The future where Slayers is the popular entertainment form is presented as a tech-perverse world where many live-out fantasies controlling the body of another; the corporation which runs the popular games is nefarious and greedy, and the masses chant and cheer for the unlikely hero of a gruesome blood sport which plays out weekly. And again, as with former incarnations of this story, the protagonist successfully nearing completion of his televised ordeal faces a corporation that was never really willing to grant the earned freedom, and so our hero must face yet another challenge in the form of a player-less killer, Hackman (Terry Crews).
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, Gamer contains a surprisingly rich cast, with Gerard Butler (300, The Ugly Truth) playing the requisite gruff and grit role of the soldier well enough to counter an unfortunately weak script. In the role of corporate computer genius is Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under), playing the young, handsome, cocky multi-billionaire with a barrelful of charisma (perhaps too much). You’ll also find Kyra Sedgwick (TNT’s The Closer) as a perky talk show host, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as the leader of the antagonistic anti-Slayer group, Humanz, and a never-more-built Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris) as the unleashed killer sent to end Kables life. A slew of guest appearances by the likes of John De Lancie (Star Trek TNG’s Q), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes), John Leguizamo (Spawn), Keith David (Pitch Black), and two stars of USA’s Psych, Maggie Lawson and James Roday, continue to surprise as the film unfolds. But much of this quality cast is wasted. Terry Crews especially is unleashed merely as a growling, muscle-flexing machine of a man from left-field to serve as a spoiler to Kable’s success, but isn’t really developed in that capacity nor used congruously. Despite the pleasure of seeing these, and other, faces through the short running time of this actioner, Gamer ends up being somewhat disappointing.
The action sequences are satisfactorily handled; there’s a kinetic frenzied feel to them, especially the grab-your-attention opening sequence, which include some intriguing camera movements. But the terrible script detracts from the gains made by the visuals. The violence is very bloody, the language low-class, and the infatuation with erotica, while all mainstays of teenager boy fantasies, offers little by way of freshness to the concept. Gamer certainly handles its explosions, warfare and fistfights well enough to satiate the likely target crowd, but the sum of all its parts is lacking proper cohesion, and the ‘showdown’ and nefarious evil plot revelation are too absurd even for this film.
This concoction of well-worn concepts of technology perverted by the morally demented for the entertainment of the equally morally questionable masses has its hits and misses. Knowing what this film is and intends to be mollifies the reaction to the faults, but does not entirely excuse them. More misses than hits, Gamer certainly doesn’t win the game, but it isn’t quite last place either.
The Video: 4.5 out of 5
Gamer is presented by Lionsgate in its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p High definition, 16X9 Widescreen. The level of detail, especially facial and skin details, is exquisite at times. The game play sequences are tinted in a gray, brown wash (almost metallic), while the real-life SIMS game has a bright and vibrantly colorful look. The darker scenes, with pronounced shadows do quite well in this HD transfer. Shot on what was a brand new type of HD camera (Red), the results are incredible life-like, with tangible depth and an utterly revealing clarity.
The Sound: 4.5 out of 5
The bombastic DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround sound packs quite a wallop. From the explosive opening through the rock infused soundtrack, Gamer pulsates and vibrates with great energy. Explosions and high velocity bullets fill the surrounds, directional audio is clear and the audio is active and full and more than enough to engage an enthusiastic audience. The center channel handling the dialogue is flawless, and overall, this impressive audio is very nicely handled.
The Extras: 3.5 out of 5
I-Con Mode (Expanded Visual Commentary): This ‘expanded’ commentary gives the directors control over the film watching experience, as they appear, from time to time, to divert into behind the scenes footage, and provide a great deal of production information. They discuss the chaos of shooting on the first day, not knowing what they were doing with the Redcams, and acting almost like war correspondents within the choreographed sequences – which certainly achieved the goals for those scenes. Overall, a good way to watch the film and linearly appreciated how the film was made.
Gamer Cheat Codes (Specialized Commentary/Making Of Pods Accessible Through the Film: Watch the movie and when the icon appears on screen, you can select a crew member from the movie for a ‘specialized commentary about that scene”.
Audio Commentary with Filmmakers and Cast members: Directors Neveldine / Taylor, directors of Crank (which Gamer is stylistically a close relation, though more matured) and select cast members have fun and discuss the use of in-camera effects and stunt performers, mainly from a lack of funds for C.G.I, and how their fluid (read: frantic) approach produced much of what worked (and most of what did not) that landed in frame. I am not sure the ‘fun’ approach taken here serves the interest of the listener, and if you must be selective in your extra features watching, I recommend the I-Con mode.
“Inside the Game” – Controlling Gamer (Making Of Documentary) (80:42): Surprisingly detailed and comprehensive making of documentary; the kind rarely provided for a film of this caliber. From the script stage for final production and post-production, a variety of people from the film is interviewed and enthusiastically discusses their involvement on the film. It’s a little infectious to be honest, and certainly worth watching.
“First-Person Shooter: The Evolution of Red” Featurette (16:45): The writer/directors discuss how they have shot each of their movies with different cameras, and the choice of shooting with Red One Digital Camera, a small camera which uses 35MM lenses and shoots 4k – quite the camera and, as it turns out, quite the star of the film. This is a valuable mini-doc on the image capture process used for Gamer.
Never-Before-Seen-Trailer (2:43): This unseen trailer is called the ‘Doobie-ness Cut’.
Lionsgate Live ™: Access exclusive content, special offers, ringtones and more.
2nd Disc: Digital Copy of the Film
Gamer isn’t anything more than what it promises – but the fixation on stylizing to the nth degree almost every minute of the running time, and the ridiculous script, which actually had the film open with the text “Some years from this exact moment”, can make even that a little less than an acceptable understanding between you and the movie. The movie is enjoyable for what it was always intended to be, and the in-house nods to sci-fi classics, such as Blade Runner, from time to time, are appreciated, but it comes with some script and film execution glitches.
Overall 3 out of 5