300’s Gerard Butler plays Kable, a wrongly-convicted felon who has been injected with a substance that essentially gives his brain an IP address that can be accessed by a player who controls him as he participates in the deadliest first-person shooter ever. Dexter’s Michael C. Hall plays an eccentric internet gajillionaire game mogul named Ken Castle, who developed the technology to allow the human brain to be accessed by outside sources. The whole thing is the brainchild of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor of Crank fame.
We don’t normally Frankenreview films here at Kotaku, but with the heavy emphasis (and some would say criticism) on gaming in Gamer, we just couldn’t resist. One thing we’ve learned—movie critics can be quite brutal.
New York Daily News
This year’s hot sci-fi concept—putting one person’s consciousness in another body—is really getting a workout. Earlier this year there was the Mexican film “Sleep Dealer”, and coming up is the Bruce Willis actioner “Surrogates”, and of course the Big Kahuna, James Cameron’s “Avatar”. For right now, though, there’s “Gamer”, which pushes its way to the front of the line like a gorilla with a chainsaw.
In the fractious future of Gamer, videogames have ”gone human’,’ with real live blood-sport warriors controlled by geeks with joysticks. The sickest of these games is Slayers, in which death-row inmates kill each other off in a noisy orgy of skip-stutter editing and dirty-ash-spattered explosions. It’s The Dirty Dozen meets TRON, updated for the age of action incoherence. As the brutish Kable, Gerard Butler must find out who’s pulling his strings, but it’s the audience whose chain gets yanked by this headache-inducing techno-violent mishmash.
Los Angeles Times
It’s a deeply cynical and joyless point of view, completely lacking in the winking visual style that made “Crank” worth a look. The one touch of wit—Hall lip-syncing and dancing to Sammy Davis Jr.’s rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” before going ballistic on Butler—is quickly enveloped by an ending that could generously be described as perfunctory. Rarely have the words “game over” come as such sweet relief.
The Onion AV Club
Eventually, Gamer just goes off the rails-or rather, onto very familiar rails. A dance number set to Sammy Davis Jr’s version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” offers a glimmer of hope that old action-movie clichés won’t triumph, but they eventually prove too powerful. A dastardly villain with dubious/stupid motivation battles a wrongly convicted family man whom he could have killed a hundred times during the movie with the touch of a button. Based on what comes before it-queasily ingratiating action sequences, a couple of really smart jabs at the media-it’s clear that Neveldine and Taylor could have come up with something deeper, darker, and better for their third act. Instead, they lean on the easy cheat codes of conventionality, somehow forgetting they’re better at exploding them.
Neveldine and Taylor’s spazzy (but coherent) action scenes rely mostly on blood spurts instead of feats of badassery, but their dystopia is inventive and their visual schemes diverse: The fight scenes play like a buffering online video, with the transmission glitches warping our sense of time, while Castle’s home looks like a live-action Speed Racer, with Hall munching snacks against bizarre nature imagery in disorienting tableaux. Their sense of the grotesque can overshadow their targets—close-ups of a 200kg guy to indict lazy media consumers isn’t exactly subtle, and more of a distraction—but they’re as smart about the details as they are loyal to corporation-bashing.
Gamer is intensely conflicted about the pleasures afforded by gaming. And in the end it’s that conflict that makes this movie such a winningly demented satire. The bad guys, covered in gore, sing little songs about how they’re about to frag the good guys. A warehouse full of blanged-out ravers from Society get soaked in day-glo viscera when Castle’s goons attack. Even Castle has an incredible zombie dance number, surrounded by his mind-controlled videogame-slurping minions, who follow his every little shufflestep because he’s beaming his moves straight to their Nanex.
Gamer isn’t nearly as bad as you’d expect, but it’s not nearly as good as it should be. Instead, the film is lost in that grey area between egregious mishandling and untapped potential. I wouldn’t suggest going to the movies to see it, but it’s probably worth a view once it comes to the small screen if for no other reason than to wonder at the possibilities of what could have been.
And this is why we can’t have nice things.