Apparently, in the future ("some years from this exact moment…", or so the title card says) the world will be addicted to sex and violence. We will all be manipulated by a megalomaniacal technology tycoon whose nano-bot/brain interface will turn video games and other simulations into real life. Indeed, thanks to Ken Castle's (Michael C. Hall) failed military experiment, consumers can log in, pick out an actual human avatar, and control said individual through a virtual domain where any and all vices are available. His most popular "experience" however is Slayers, a contest in which death row inmates battle each other for the chance at a pardon and freedom. Article continues below
So far, so familiar, right? Sounds like a lot of recent sloppy sci-fi actioners. And that's the biggest issue with Mark Neveldine and Mark Taylor's Gamer. One expects a little more invention from the guys who gave us the seemingly immortal hitman Chev Chelios and his pair of Crank adventures. In those brain-busting stunt spectacles, the duo threw everything at the screen including the clogs in the kitchen sink and came up with a couple of adrenaline-soaked exploitation epics. But this time, bogged down by a complicated plot that needs constant attention and a studio that wants mainstream product, not mind-bending skate punk, the guys have a hard time delivering the dementia.
As old thrill rides go, however, it's definitely above average. Gerard Butler is on hand as soldier turned inmate superstar Kable, king of Castle's mass murder RPG. Only three "wins" away getting his life back, he plays along as pasty web geek Simon (Logan Lerman) controls his in-game actions. Resistance is literally futile since Kable's noggin is connected to Slayers like a laptop. In the meantime, our hero's wife is being whored out to another of Castle's creations -- a Sims-like set-up known as Society. There, she must act out the freakshow fantasies of any homebound pervert that picks her "character."
Things get ever more complicated when the Humanz organization, a group of hacker/radicals run by Brother (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) contacts Simon. They suggest he release Kable and let him escape the game. If he doesn't, another inmate named Hackman (Terry Crews) will kill him and destroy everything they are doing. Thus begins a series of conspiracy theory convolutions, a lot of unnecessary attempted character development, and one of the weirdest good guy vs. bad guy finales ever (set to the song "I've Got You Under My Skin"). Of all people, Neveldine and Taylor should know that audiences don't come to their movies to think. They show up to see pumped up machismo conquer bumbling villainy with as much blood-soaked bravado as possible.
For this particular guilty-pleasure-seeking demographic, however, Gamer will be a tad underwhelming. Clearly, our guys have more on their mind than anarchy and arterial spray -- though they do deliver both. There is actually a message buried deep within the screenplay's scattered designs, a comment on the downward spiral our planet takes once enslaved by hedonistic technology. While Neveldine and Taylor never really expand on the social thesis, you sense it's at the core of what their movie's all about. Explosions and flying body parts are just the means to their specific future shock ends. It's not a completely successful allegory, but we get the general idea.
If Gamer is some indication of Neveldine and Taylor maturing, let's hope they never really grow up. Scope just can't substitute for the hyperactive giddiness of their previous work. While it's a decent and sometimes effective thriller, the guys have done better -- a lot better.