The team of Neveldine/Taylor (as they have been credited thus far) are fast becoming the finest purveyors of cinematic trash to the mainstream audience in some time. The duo have written and directed just three films (Crank 1 and 2, and Gamer) and written two others (the straight to video Pathology and the upcoming Jonah Hex), but that short period of time seems to have been all they needed to find their place within Hollywood's hierarchy.
They make movies that feel like video games, movies that indulge in the baser instincts where sex and violence are commonplace, where plot is secondary to visual insanity. What is even more amazing is the fine line they are able to balance on where it all holds together. You would think these films would fly off the rails and under a lesser eye they probably would.
It was just earlier this year that the two brought Crank 2: High Voltage to the screen. That movie is filled with violence, nudity, profanity, and enough mind-numbing insanity to satiate to hardest of the hardcore adrenaline junkies. The only thing is that you need not bother to keep your brain engaged. There is no need for it and it will more than likely end up splattered on the seat behind you. It is certainly something to be experienced. Is it possible for Gamer to stand up to the trashy genius of the Crank films?
Gamer has much in common with the duo's earlier films. It has the same ADD-inspired editing that should come with an epilepsy warning (like video games) and the same tendency to use off-kilter camera angle, handheld cameras, and is set in an alternate world where everything is amped up. There are some very distinct differences between the two. While this one subscribes to the hyperkinetic visual style, the story is more focused and seems like it actually has something to say.
The story feels a little like a combination of Running Man and Death Race 2000. I know there are a couple others mixed in there too, but the names are not coming to me. In any case, it it s the near future and a technology has been developed that allows people to be controlled remotely, like a computer's IP address.
The first application of the technology was a game called "Society." This allowed people to control or be controlled by others in a zone where pretty much anything goes. It is popular and controversial, considering what real people are forced to do. Then came its followup, the wildly more successful "Slayers." This is a war game whose participants are death row inmates controlled by gamers. The battle is real, the carnage is real, and the fans are most definitely real. You may wonder why any inmate would wish to participate. The answer is easy — survive 30 battles and you are freed and pardoned.
There you go, the basic setup for the film. At the center of our film is Kable (Gerard Butler), an inmate that has survived 28 battles in "Slayers" and is on the cusp of freedom, not to mention being a superstar to the fans of the game. He is essentially Frankenstein from Death Race 2000. However, he does not intend on remaining a player of the game; he wants out to reunite with his family. To do that he will need the assistance of the teen who controls him and to avoid the attempts of Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall of Dexter), the multi-billionaire creator of the tech used for these mega-popular games.
The entire project is pretty straightforward in terms of story and structure. Underneath the hood there is a cursory examination of the gamer culture and the effects of technology on how we live our lives, and perhaps a little on taking personal responsibility for your own actions. However, I suspect they are just there to give a little perspective for the wild action.
This movie is not about digging into society's underbelly, nor does it want to dig at some big truth. The team of Neveldine/Taylor has been about one thing since they appeared on the scene, style over substance. Over their three directorial efforts, they have refined the talent and honed their skill. Their work is clearly informed by video games, and with that said, I think they have gotten the closest to conveying what may be like to be inside a video game. I am not sure how they do it, but they take the reins of chaos, pull back and control it just so much as to keep it from flying off the rails. It is an impressive balancing act.
Bottom line. This movie is a lot of fun. It is as over the top and insane as Crank, yet it is more refined, controlled, and has a little something to say, which is more than can be said for Crank. Gamer is a wild ride filled with action, thrills, comedy, and an in-your-face attitude that won't be denied.