Video killed the video game star

September 4, 2009 | Gamer Reviews, Uncategorized

[i Gamer is a futuristic tale where the video icons are real people.[/i

The question of what to do with the cutthroats and murderers who occupy American prisons was solved years ago by the movies: you make them run for their lives for the amusement of TV game show audiences (The Running Man, 1987), have them take part in kill-or-killed car races (Death Race, 2008), or now, in Gamer, turn them into characters in elaborate video games, to be controlled by young men who are obsessed with sex and violence – and we’re not commenting on the audience for this movie, but if the software fits . . . – as they battle other convicts controlled by other young men similarly obsessed with sex and violence. The object: well, sex and violence.

They’re both abundant in this production that is as much a video game as a film. Gerard Butler stars as Kable (and a good name for him, too), a death-row inmate. He’s been framed for murder – something to do with U.S. army experiments – and, like so many others, has been given artificial brain cells that turn him into a character in a game called Slayer, controlled by a game player as if he was just a big, hunky pile of pixels.

“I’m the hand,” Kable says. “Someone somewhere else is the eye.”

That would be Simon (Logan Lerman), a gamer who has his icon committing mayhem so successfully that he’s only a few victories short of winning a reprieve from prison. Simon, meanwhile, is parlaying his success with Kable into a life of Internet popularity – lots of babes on his liquid crystal computer dome, alongside the websites that pulse and float like candy-coloured islands of fun.

This is all the doings of Ken Castle (Dexter’s Michael C. Hall) a computer genius who has figured out how to turn people into robots. Castle has a second game as well, called Society, in which volunteers are controlled in more erotic play. The Slayer guys run through urban environments firing machine guns, with the realistic hesitations and static of a real-time surveillance video-cum- video game – you’re practically reaching for the joystick, if not the fast- forward button. While the Society women put on hot pants and writhe around or expose their breasts for the amusement of controllers who are represented by an immensely fat guy with, frankly, too much time on his hands, among other things.

The ethics of robotic icons is explored briefly in Gamer – Ludacris appears as a hacker who is trying to destroy the game and restore human freedom – but this movie is mostly about the style in which it is told. Writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are the creative forces behind the Crank franchise, and Gamer has the same kinetic propulsion.

Butler fires his guns and beats up his enemies with ferocious intensity (Neveldine-Taylor have an affinity for the offbeat action hero, in the mould of Jason Statham) in scenes that are so game-like you’d swear they weren’t real, which of course they are not. Meanwhile, in the Society section of the film, whirling cameras and supersaturated colours underline the essential corruption of the idea of futuristic voyeurism, a lot of it involving Kable’s wife (Amber Valletta), who has taken the job of a sex icon to make ends meet while the old man is in prison.

This is about as ludicrous as it sounds, speaking of the devil, but at the same time it doesn’t take itself too seriously, at least until the end when people start talking about the ruination of the penal system and how health care could be similarly taken over, which could be an improvement, come to think of it.

The movie’s spirit of chaotic modernism is best expressed in a surreal scene in which Hall – playing the high-tech billionaire with a lot more spirit than Bill Gates ever managed – sings a passable version of a Frank Sinatra standard while his henchmen dance in unison. This seems like something thrown in for the older people, and don’t think we don’t appreciate it. Sinatra: now that was sex and violence.

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