A lot of times you can tell what you’re in for during the opening scenes of a movie. The first 15 minutes or so is crucial for hooking an audience. Either they’re with you from the beginning or they’re against you. In the opening scenes of Gamer, not only is the story established, the movie’s flaws are made blatantly clear.
The movie opens with a tremendously thrilling battle scene. Well, it would be a tremendously thrilling battle scene if I could tell what in the hell was going on. Gamer falls into the trap of most modern action movies, from Batman Begins to Star Trek. That trap is mistaking Shakycam and Rapid Zoom for actual excitement.
Yes, Gamer is rife with hand-held camera work, and lots and lots of blurry, jiggling, and flat-out nauseating moments right in the middle of the actions scenes. In fact, the opening combat scene was so bad I had to look away, just because the vertigo was starting to turn my stomach, and after paying $4.50 for a slice of pizza, I wasn’t about to give it up just because directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor don’t want to strap a guy into the Steadicam rig.
The action eventually settles down a bit more and becomes more standard action movie shooting, but it never quite luxuriates in the action like it should. When you’re shooting an action movie, part of the power is the spectacle and when you can’t see the big shootouts and the Slayers battles, you’re missing out on the selling point of the film. There’s always a little too much POV camera and not enough long tracking shots. The lack of depth in the combat is endemic of the entire movie’s lack of depth.
If you saw the remake of Death Race, you know that the Slayer named Kable (Gerard Butler) has to win a certain amount of games before he can go free (kind of like Frankenstein/Jensen Ames had to win five death races). You also know, undoubtedly, that the mastermind behind Slayers, one Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) is kind of a bad guy. If you’ve seen The Running Man, then you know exactly where this movie is headed. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but it doesn’t help that the movie follows the standard trope like a bloodhound trailing an escaped convict.
The script, also from directors Neveldine and Taylor, isn’t very exceptional. There is a lot of satire directed towards the teenagers, miscreants, and creepy cretins that play Second Life and Halo, though. Most of it is mean-spirited towards the film’s audience. People only play Second Life-style ‘Society’ because they’re gigantically fat deviants looking for something to masturbate to while stuffing waffles into their face. Everyone that plays Call Of Duty-type ‘Slayers’ is a snotty, hyperactive teenager or a gore hound looking to pwn noobs in the face (before tea bagging the deceased, naturally).
The pair throw in a lot of inside jokes that gamers will appreciate, but they come at it from a place of self-loathing. At least the non-gamers in the audience won’t get the jokes or references, so that won’t add fuel to the insults and taunts, though the Second Lifers get it the worst. There are also lengthy evil soliloquies by Castle and muttered action movie snippets from Kable. The clichés abound in Gamer!
Gerard Butler gets basically nothing to do but run around and shoot blanks while grimacing and squinting. Michael C. Hall plays Castle like a gay, evil Foghorn Leghorn. The best performance in the film is given by a rapper (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the leader of an anti-Castle group called Humanz), who has one of the better moments in the movie in an exchange with Kable’s controlling teenager Simon (Logan Lerman).
I love a good, dumb action movie. I appreciate explosions and machine gunfire, but I don’t appreciate being openly mocked. The previous work of Neveldine and Taylor, namely Crank and its sequel, is a lot more fun and winking. Plus, of course, the presence of Statham, who makes just about anything watchable. It’s not like I dislike Gerard Butler, but he doesn’t have that guy’s guy quality that Statham has, and Gamer‘s script is a lot more serious than the movie has any right to be.
In a movie basically about games, this level of grimness is tough to handle. Gamers also have a good sense of humor, especially about themselves. We can take a joke at our expense, but there’s a difference between teasing and outright assault. Take potshots at the guys on the screen, not the guys in the audience.