Director: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Notable Cast: Gerard Butler, Amber Valletta, Michael C. Hall, Kyra Sedgwick, Logan Lerman, Alison Lohman, Terry Crews, Chris â€œLudacrisâ€ Bridges
With the advent of â€œrealityâ€ television has come the sort of realization that the 80s action classic The Running Man and 1975 camp classics Death Race 2000 and Rollerball only could hint at in their release: life and death as a means of televised entertainment. With 2008’s Death Race envisioning Paul Bartel’s world with a modern twist, Gamer is akin to The Running Man in spirit.
Kable (Gerard Butler) is a death row inmate given a chance at freedom by participating in â€œSlayers,â€ a reality show of sorts. Given weapons, death row inmates have to survive a series of 30 battles to earn their freedom. The twist is that they’re controlled by human players via technology, as Kable is controlled by 17 year old Simon (Logan Lerman). The show is conceived by Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), who developed the technology for another show called â€œSocietyâ€ in which humans are controlled by the same technology from their homes. As Kable nears his 30th victory, freedom isn’t quite the option it’s made out to be in the usual sort of dystopian view of society in the future.
With a top notch concept, incorporating the advances in video game systems with the sort of train-wreck style, trashy reality television currently in vogue, Neveldine and Taylor are presenting a world and taking a large step of maturity as film-makers. Unlike the â€œvideo-game on steroidsâ€ approach of either Crank films, the two writer/directors are taking a decidedly mature take on a subject that’s hard to do well. In terms of their script it’s decidedly stronger and more complete then anything they’ve done before. This is well-structured with no interludes and no padding; it’s tighter then either Crank film and is definitely a step up in that regards.
The problem is that while they’ve developed a better script and story, they’ve taken a decided step back in terms of their presentation. This is a film that is edited and cut heavily, making it hard to keep track of the action, and also uses the â€œshaky camâ€ effect way too often. When an action sequence starts there’s no real way to keep track, or stay involved as a viewer, because the two want to instill some chaos into the viewing to match the chaos happening on screen. It’s easy to see why they’re doing it, to give it a more intense experience, but all it ends up doing is instilling chaos into what’s happening.
They have done a solid job in casting. Michael C. Hall, more famous for being the title character in Dexter, is given a good character but not enough screen time to establish himself. When his final purpose is revealed he’s still nothing more than an enigma; Hall is having an absolute blast in the role, singing a Frank Sinatra song of all things, but isn’t given enough screen time to really make an impression on the screen. His involvement in the finale seems perfunctory as opposed to necessary, as if Neveldine & Taylor needed another reason to keep him on the screen.
Gerard Butler, on the other hand, is interesting to see because he’s toned down his usual brash self and is in full â€œaction heroâ€ mode. In perhaps the best shape of his cinematic career since 300, Butler’s charisma and screen presence elevate the character beyond merely the hammer striking the nail of cinematic revenge. Kable is the good guy, of course, but Butler has that special presence in an action hero that’s rare to find. We accept him as a killer who can do all sorts of nasty things and still like him and actively root for him.
Much like many films can be described as â€œ[x for the A.D.D generationâ€ in comparison to a film from 10-30 years ago, Gamer is The Running Man for another generation but lacking the sort of quality and cinematography of its predecessor.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):