Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Written & Directed by: Neveldine/Taylor
Starring: Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Logan Lerman Amber Valetta, Alison Lohman & Chris Bridges
Neveldine/Taylor take a break from their hyper-kinetic, loopy as a bowl of fruit loops action franchise Crank to make, well, their hyper-kinetic, loopy as a bowl of fruit loops sci-fi actioner Gamer. About as subtle as one of Lady Gaga’s outfits and applying as much force as a wrecking ball to the crotch, Neveldine/Taylor continue their big, bad and brash assault on the action film and, surprisingly, make a fun and stylish sci-fi flick. Sure, hardened sci-fi fans (those who like their science fiction a little slower, more thoughtful and time spent on exploring different alien races) may not groove to Gamer’s sensibilities (or they might if they fancy some sci-fi of the curveball variety i.e. loud and proud and featuring lots of gunplay) but, whether you like it or not, Neveldine/Taylor’s style is a distinctive one and backed up by a game (ahem!) cast and fierce action make Gamer an almost surrealist action trash, sci-fi slam of a picture.
So, there is a video game called Slayers which allows users to take control of real life humans, in this case convicted felons, who fight against one another over thirty games in a bid for freedom: if you last the thirty games and your user doesn’t get you killed first. The top fighter is Kable (Butler), ace at combat and wouldn’t you know it, not guilty of the crime he is supposed to have committed. His controller is Simon (Lerman) a 17 year old (for the lack of a better phrase) “douche bag” who is hoping to be the first player to win Slayers and there by bed loads of hot chicks (see, playing video games constantly does make you attractive to women, well, that and being a douche bag!). But Kable has other ideas and wants out of the game which he will hopefully achieve with the help of some cyber rebels (Bridges, Lohman) who want Slayers shut down as they know, evil, southern accented, uber douche bag and creator of the game Castle (Hall) is up to no good and using his game for potentially much more nefarious reasons.
To be honest, for what many will describe as a silly action movie targeted at the younger demographic (which it is); Gamer actually has a lot going on. Aside from all the action, violence, nudity, swearing, cool tech and videogame nonsense, Gamer also packs in a resistance movement, another real life video game called Society (The Sims with real people), swipes at the media (Kyra Sedgwick pops up as the host of a talk show for some reason or another), swipes at the gaming industry, our reliance on technology and digs at video gamers themselves. There is also some kind of dodgy military program in their as well (there always is!) and a whole host of cool cameos from John Leguizamo, Terry Crews, Zoë Bell, Keith David, John de Lancie and in an absolutely hilariously bizarre bit Milo Ventimiglia as the appropriately monikered Rick Rape. Yep, not much subtly here. Actually, that’s a little unfair as the acting is pretty good, the cast obviously embracing the outlandish and serious aspects of the concept, and while there are one too many characters juggling for screen time and Gamer will never be mistaken for being deep, the characters are a little more rounded than you would expect. Butler continues to impress as the dangerous and determined Kable and Hall is a hoot as the deranged Castle who even manages to sing and dance in the middle of a fight scene!
Neveldine/Taylor don’t forget their bread and butter as they manage to stuff Gamer with a (and, again, for the lack of a better phrase) shit ton of action. Larger in scope and more bombastic than the Crank films, the makers certainly know how to immerse the viewer in the action. Cameras follow the players through battle scenes, much like in a video game, achieving a somewhat first person feel. The game Slayers features the convicts going against one another in abandoned warehouses and streets armed to the teeth with machine guns, bazookas and anything they can get their hands one (again, much like a video game). Big gun battles and buildings being blown apart ensue and there is an impressive truck chase as well. Now Neveldine/Taylor perhaps overdose on the shaky camera, jittery editing, we-are-totally-putting-you-in-the-action aspect and those who aren’t fans of this technique may not be bowled over by it here. While I am an advocator for the let-us-see-what-is-happening-and-appreciate-the-stunts kind of action, Neveldine/Taylor can do the shaky, whiplash style well and do manage to orchestrate some impressive mayhem. Mention should also go to how they start the action off big and go smaller as the film goes along (as apposed to starting small and getting bigger) as Kable first takes part in huge battles before honing in on individuals and swapping running gunplay and truck chasing for one-on-one combat.
A film with a real love it or hate it syndrome, Gamer is nevertheless a blitzkrieg of style, ideas and action that if you can go with the flow, is a lot of fun. It’s morals may be a bit sketchy (is it a warning on how violent and twisted video games have become or embracing this trend and applying it to a movie?) and while its not quite as bat shit crazy fun (damn lack of better phrases!) as Crank 2: High Voltage, Gamer is still high octane, eye searing, taste pushing entertainment. Game on.