[b Bottom Line: Crass, nonstop action triumphs over narrative and character in this movie-length simulation of a video game.[/b
“Gamer” takes up the wild action where the two “Crank” movies left off. Following the boxoffice success with those films, co-creators Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor turn their video game/boy sensibilities to science fiction. Here, gamers play icons that are, in fact, living human beings who kill or get killed according to the skill of their online controllers.
The movie is meant to be a total rush. Action is frantic, life is cheap, images hit fast, characters barely register, and the whole experience is one of desensitization. No doubt, Crankheads will eat it up.
The “Crank” films saw Jason Statham rushing here and there to keep his heart pumping hard so that a Chinese poison wouldn’t kill him. In “Gamer,” an athletic Gerard Butler dashes through an urban battle zone, wasting faceless, nameless opponents without any control over his actions. For Kable — a prisoner who can supposedly vie for a commuted sentence by participating in these gladiatorial games — is controlled (via implanted computer chips in the brain) by Simon (Logan Lerman). This teen video prodigy guides him to weekly victories that enthrall millions around the globe.
The game, along with a sister game that delves into sexual fetishes and prostitution, is the brainchild of reclusive megalomaniac Castle (Michael C. Hall). Not only has Castle been made a multibillionaire by these games, but he uses them to test out mind-and-body controls for even more sinister purposes.
Butler’s character has a backstory along with a wife (Amber Valletta) and daughter, but this sort of movie has no time to get into all that. Indeed, nothing about the movie’s political or sociological environment is given even a passing glance. A moment of thought is a wasted moment here, so Neveldine/Taylor, as the writers-directors bill themselves, keep pressure on the throttle for 95 minutes.
Butler is the perfect nonthinking hero. Scarcely aware of his own reality or identity, Butler dashes through the movie in a role that is all action and no acting. No one else, including Kyra Sedgwick as a trashy talk-show host, fares any better.
Hall does have a bizarre moment near the climax when he does a slick dance number with a few thought-controlled goons that suggests Neveldine/Taylor actually were going for humor. It doesn’t work, though, because it’s totally out of keeping with everything else.
The technical barrage of visual and digital effects, quick cuts and strobe lighting does produce something akin to the sensation of playing a video game. So why, one wonders, don’t potential viewers simply play one instead of watching this pale imitation?