"Turn me loose!"
High octane thrill rides don't come much higher or octanier (octane-ier?) than this. Butler delivers another solid performance as a man on a mission in a game he's not expected to win. But I couldn't help but feel that it lacks that elusive spark of genius. Instead I think it levels out at an average rating at best, which is sad because it had such potential.
I believe that I went into this one with the right mind set. It was a goofy popcorn flick, in fact when discussing it we came to the conclusion that it was in fact the spiritual successor to The Running Man. Given that fact, this movie was not going to be an academy award winner, so that facet of my brain was kept sufficiently in check. It did however have enough of a story to keep it out of the dark pit inhabited by Michael Bay's Transformers movies.
The plot revolves around a new form of entertainment that has taken the world by storm. Set in the not-so-distant future people are no longer content to play video games in which they control artificial 'sprites', no now they want to play as living, flesh and blood human beings. With the help of a nifty little sprinkling of nano tech (which is all the rage these days) that is exactly what they get. Two new games have cropped up, Societies (a game eerily similar to EA's The Sims) and Slayers (think Gears of War, if all the players were real people).
The controversy surrounds the fact that human players in Slayers really do die in the game. This is not paintball or laser tag, they use live fire weapons. The argument then, is that every player is a volunteer. They are death row inmates who are given the option of playing, if they survive 30 battles they are set free. Of course nobody survives 30 battles. As the movie starts Kable (Butler) is only two wins away from freedom, and the only man who has ever come that close. At the same time his wife Angie (Valletta) is attempting to win back custody of their daughter, while earning a living as an 'actress' in Societies. To make things a little more interesting, slightly unhinged, mogul Ken Castle (Hall) the inventor and owner of both Societies and Slayers, has no intention of letting Kable win his freedom. So what is really going on? Why does Castle not want to let Kable out? You'll have to watch to find out.
The acting was pretty good in this one seeing as it was an all out action brawler. Butler, and I have to admit to being a fan ever since RocknRolla, is really good in the action hero role. He's got that 'rough around the edges' look that just feels right for the downtrodden hero (I think it would be nice to see him as Snake in an Escape from New York remake.) Valletta plays against type in this one, previously I had only seen her in Hitch which was a far departure from her character in this one. It's worth noting that she was in fact playing two distinct characters in the movie. One was Angie, wife of Kable, the other was the somewhat bizarre and twisted alter ego in Societies (where she is being played by a stereotypically fat slob.)
Stealing the show is Michael C Hall, the guy is having a lot of fun with this part. At one point he even engages in a song and dance routine with a room full of nano controlled killers. He is really playing up the crazy southerner in the movie and if nothing else he succeeds in creating a character that you will love to hate. There is also a nice variety of cameos in the movie, including John de Lancie, John Leguizamo, Zoe Ball, Milo Ventimiglia and Chris 'Ludicris' Bridges; so watch out for those. Yes I did say Ludacris has a cameo, not a starring role, because he is barely in the movie at all.
The thing I really took away from Gamer was the parts of the movie that actually showcased the game of Slayers. Every now and then we are treated to the user interface of the game, which looked really good mapped on the real world setting. Kudos to the special effects department for that one. Of course if the best thing I took from the movie was the effects then that tells you something about it already. It's fun, it's entertaining, but I don't think it's eligible for repeat viewings. The action is great, the gun fights and explosions are all in there making it a good action flick, but somehow I don't think this is going to be added to my DVD collection. By comparison lets take a look at Die Hard. Now that movie is without doubt and action flick, but it is also supplied with some really snappy dialog and a villain that is almost likable (well for me anyway). Gamer doesn't have that snappy dialog, nor does it have the cool collected villain and as a result I think that it has to fall into the 'one hit wonder' category. There is just nothing in there that really encourages me to go back.
So where do I stand on Gamer? Is it fun? Yes it is. Is it entertaining? Yes it is. Is it worth a $9 ticket to see it? Sadly probably not. But AMC has $5 showings which are probably a more appropriate price point for this one. Overall it's fun, but nothing special so you wouldn't be missing all that much if you skipped it.
Final Verdict on Gamer: