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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Gamer (review)

It’s visually incomprehensible, emotionally empty, thematically nihilistic, almost entirely plotless… and it thinks those are virtues. Do you need more reasons to stay away from this all-around pointless gorefest? I’ve been a defender of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor: I think their Crank flicks are clever sendups of cinematic convention, but I don’t know what they imagined they were doing here, with their five minutes of story and 90 minutes of random, brutal carnage. Perhaps they figured that since those five minutes of story are the same we’ve seen in a dozen other films — from The Running Man to Death Race — we didn’t need a retread. They’re right. Gerard Butler (The Ugly Truth) is a wrongly convicted (of course) death-row inmate fighting to escape from a “game” in which his meatbody is on the frontlines facing real ammo from real assault weapons but his nanobot-infected brain is being controlled by a teenaged player (Logan Lerman, not delivering on the promise he showed in 3:10 to Yuma) safe in his mom’s basement, so to speak. Yes, it’s all virtual reality until someone’s head explodes in burst of brain matter and skull fragments. Will Butler escape? Will he take down the techno billionaire responsible for the game (Michael C. Hall, making a poor choice for a feature breakout), who is up to a whole bunch of nefarious no-good? Do you have to ask?


MPAA: rated R for frenetic sequences of strong brutal violence throughout, sexual content, nudity and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Well, it ain’t great, but there are two moments of inspired lunacy that make the entire film worth watching. To avoid spoiling them, I’ll call them The Song and The Dance.

  • SaintAndy

    Hmm, your review is definitely a bit short .. I was expecting a bit more, on account of Gerald Butler’s awesomeness. So I guess there was little worth writing home about…

  • MaryAnn

    Butler is not awesome here. He’s a nonentity. No his fault: He’s just meat for the directors in the same way he’s meat for the game.

    And The Song and Dance is not awesome, either. It’s train-wreck awful.

  • Alli

    Was Michael C. Hall that bad in this?

  • MaryAnn (Mon Sep 07 09, 4:27PM):

    Butler is not awesome here. He’s a nonentity. No his fault: He’s just meat for the directors in the same way he’s meat for the game.

    And The Song and Dance is not awesome, either. It’s train-wreck awful.

    Well, reasonable individuals could disagree about The Dance, I’m sure, but The Song is fucking creepy as fuck. I’m talking about two separate scenes.

    **SPOILERS**

    That Pinocchio song “I got no strings” will never be the same for a lot of people after they see this movie.

    And if you wanna call Michael C. Hall doing a puppet dance while Gerard Butler beats the shit out of a bunch of guys “train-wreck awful” I guess that’s okay… but I though it was genius.

    **END SPOILERS**

  • MaryAnn

    Clearly, Newbs, we live in different universes.

  • Muzz

    I’ve not seen this yet, but was Gerard Butler ever awesome?
    He usually seems like he’s trying very hard to be a proper screen presence and I want to like the guy, but he’s just meh. 300 was where he worked the best, which is the most damning of faint praise (he was doing a joviality-bereft Brain Blessed impersonation at best).
    I know that feeling of wondering when the guy is going to really be allowed to shine. But I think its time to face facts: Dracula 2000 is more the norm than the exception.

  • Brian

    @Muzz: Check out Beowulf and Grendel, if you already haven’t. Butler does shine in that, and in it, he’s doing anything but trying too hard . . . On the contrary, he’s perfectly at ease.

  • MaryAnn (Mon Sep 07 09, 11:48PM):

    Clearly, Newbs, we live in different universes.

    Yes, and in my universe we don’t have to wear pants to work.

    Also we tend to enjoy sci-fi action movies, even the hokey ones, and Gamer is certainly a member of that set. :)

  • Muzz

    Hmm, I’ll try and dig that one up Brian. Cheers.
    Stellan Skarsgard too.

  • Blank Frank

    I do have to say, of all the tropes to be flogged to death by mediocre action movies in recent years, “real people as literal players in someone’s deadly game” wasn’t one which I expected to be trotted out so often.

  • Maurice

    This flick is awful unless you’re entertained by lots of action, cool explosions and occasionally wincing at flying chunks of human viscera, in which case it’s awesome!

  • Maurice

    I also think that somewhere lost in the meandering and languid pacing is a half-assed attempt at allegory or social commentary, but it’s such a clumsy, ham-fisted afterthought that doesn’t merit mentioning.

  • Maurice (Wed Sep 09 09, 7:19PM):

    I also think that somewhere lost in the meandering and languid pacing is a half-assed attempt at allegory or social commentary, but it’s such a clumsy, ham-fisted afterthought that doesn’t merit mentioning.

    You’re not wrong here… it’s clear that Neveldine and Taylor view their intended audience with contempt, which isn’t exactly the textbook way to garner positive word of mouth (evidenced by the awful opening weekend gross). The “gamers” portrayed in this film are either idiotic tweens or disgusting, sociopathic blobs. And while this actually isn’t too far off the mark, it’s still bad form.

    But I still kinda liked the movie… maybe because fat people gross me out, too!

    Also there is one badass action scene that plays like something out of Children of Men; the only one that shows Kabel from the “over-the-shoulder” perspective of the game… all at once the action crystallizes and you can see what’s happening. It’s really cool; I wish all the “game” scenes had been shot like that.

  • Mathias

    Loved the two Crank films, hated this.

    It looked like this duo went out of their way to make an ugly film with Gamer.

    Hated it.

  • Fuggle

    Both from Maurice:

    This flick is awful unless you’re entertained by lots of action, cool explosions and occasionally wincing at flying chunks of human viscera, in which case it’s awesome!

    Even for that, I found it more than a little lacking.

    I also think that somewhere lost in the meandering and languid pacing is a half-assed attempt at allegory or social commentary, but it’s such a clumsy, ham-fisted afterthought that doesn’t merit mentioning.

    That’s the thing I really almost couldn’t stand about Gamer. Somewhere under it are some interesting questions, and a rather interesting and thoughtful and even dramatic movie could have been built from many of the components that were there … and then they just took ’em and thouht “well lets have a disgusting blob ‘play’ a hot lady and have Gerrard Butler kill people.”

    BAH I say!

  • Henry Swanson

    Ok, first impressions – to quote Bill Hicks: “It’s a P.O.S.” This flic has ‘stfu n00b and give us your ca$h – lol’ written all over it. Philosphically speaking however, the fact that this is a ‘stupid movie’ is actually the least interesting thing about it.

    It’s the exact visual equivalent of listening to sugar-buzzed 13 year olds with ADD on XPox Live – mindlessly violent, hyper-kinetic (constant motion as a way of hiding the fact there’s no motion at all and nothing whatsoever’s happening), disturbingly random and utterly lost in the parched virtual desert of Electronic Entertainment – but not entirely meaningless.. not entirely.

    I think of it like this. Say for example, if you were a mad scientist, willingly trapped deep in a sentient secret underground research base? – This movie (with the sound off, natch) would look perfect being played in the background on an old wall-mounted holomonitor, while you figure out how to maintain that interdimensional teleportal to the near future.

    That’s all it’s good for, though. That – and using the unfashionably obsolete Blu Ray disc as a deadly ninja throwing device against the smooth tanned necks of the self-styled Directors..

    Now off to watch “Death Machine” instead
    – Henry Swanson

    ps. The fat guy was the best guy in Gamer. His recreational psychopathology was (still) the sharpest of the entire bunch

  • stryker1121

    ‘The “gamers” portrayed in this film are either idiotic tweens or disgusting, sociopathic blobs. And while this actually isn’t too far off the mark, it’s still bad form.’

    That perception actually IS far off the mark, Newbs. The average gamer is 28 years old, has representatives from both sexes, and does not breath from his/her mouth or live in his/her mom’s basement. (I read these factoids in Time) Calling all (or the majority of) gamers ‘sociopathic blobs’ would be like saying all people with their own blogs are self-indulgent windbags. I’d like to think that neither stereotype holds water.

  • Accounting Ninja

    Yeah, I was, at one time, a gamer. I still am at heart, though now I rarely have time for any actual playing. A lot of my 20s were spent in various RPG fandoms. I’d like to think that, while I might not appeal to all humans, I am far from disgusting. I do shower every day. :)
    Here’s another gamer stereotype I’m sick of: gamers are all men. stryker1121 is right, they are both sexes, all ages and can come from many walks of life.

  • stryker1121 (Tue Sep 15 09, 3:29PM):

    That perception actually IS far off the mark, Newbs. The average gamer is 28 years old, has representatives from both sexes, and does not breath from his/her mouth or live in his/her mom’s basement. (I read these factoids in Time) Calling all (or the majority of) gamers ‘sociopathic blobs’ would be like saying all people with their own blogs are self-indulgent windbags. I’d like to think that neither stereotype holds water.

    Congratulations, you’ve discovered the secret, hidden sarcasm in my post. Five points for tenacity!!

    Of course I didn’t mean that, it’s an idiotic thing to say. Generalizations of any kind are (except this one) completely useless.

    Methinks thou dost protest too much!

    :P

  • Thanks for your review…Most people seem to have given it roughly a 6/10.

    Can’t wait to see how Michael C. Hall does in Gamer. I always see him as Dexter… Never got into Six Feet Under.. Some people have said they always think he looks gay! :-( I have to wait until Gamer hits the UK screens tho.. NOT HAPPY!

  • Never got into Six Feet Under.. Some people have said they always think he looks gay! :-(

    Well, considering the nature of the character Hall played on Six Feet Under, one would like to consider that an appropriate tribute to Hall’s acting skills but for some reason, I doubt it was intended as such.

  • JosephFM

    I have to say, vis a vis MaryAnn’s exchange with Newbs, that I live in a universe where “train-wreck awful” and “awesome” are often considered synonyms.

    I’ll wait for the mocking clips to hit YouTube.

  • CB

    Wait, so it’s just Running Man with a remote-control gimmick thrown on top? Man that’s even lamer than the plot I draped over the previews in my imagination. I was thinking it’d be sort of like Ender’s Game/Last Star Fighter: Logan is the World’s Greatest Gamer, and only by merging his reflexes and strategic thinking with Gerard’s physical capabilities can they defeat The Big Bad. Gerard is a willing accomplice, but still Logan has to deal with the fact that if he messes up and gets fragged, it’ll be Gerard who pays the ultimate price!

    Granted that movie would still have been god-awful and so I gave this a miss… but it’s always sad to find out that even my extremely low expectations were in fact over ambitious.

  • CB

    Of course I didn’t mean that, it’s an idiotic thing to say. Generalizations of any kind are (except this one) completely useless.

    Absolutely everyone who makes sweeping generalizations deserves to be dragged out into the street and shot!

  • MBI

    Just saw the film at the dollar theater. I gotta admit, there were times that the plotlessness perfunctory nature worked for me. I felt like I was essentially watching a series of images, like an abstract film. I’m not kidding, this film is almost Lynchian.

    Of course, there were also times where I was convinced that I was watching the worst film ever made. A poster above referenced The Song and The Dance above; The Song was just kind of stupid, but The Dance was sublime. I can’t imagine how anyone couldn’t like the Sublime.

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