February 2, 2010

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2009 was a big year for director duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.  Just five short months after their big Crank sequel hit theaters, Gamer, the pair’s first “big budget” picture opened nationwide.  The film follows Kable (Gerard Butler), a convicted murderer enrolled in Slayers, a competition for survival against fellow prisoners.  The catch: the players can’t control their motor functions.

Instead, they are the puppets of players — in Kable’s case,  a teen named Simon (Logan Lerman) — who control them remotely through a video game.  Survive 40 matches and you’re free.  Die in one match and you’re dead.  Are you game?  See why you should be after the jump.

Gamer movie poster.jpgIn Gamer, Kable’s not the only one being played.  His wife Angie (Amber Valletta) is the pawn in a similar, Sims-esque game called Society.  Both Slayers and Society are created and owned by Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), the film’s archetypal evil mastermind, who butts heads with an underground organization of hackers called the Humanz, led by the Brother (Ludacris).

When Gamer begins, Kable is only four games away from freedom, and the whole world is watching his every fight, audience included.  Now these fights are kind of amazing for numerous reasons.  First of all, there is a lot going on.  The film demands multiple viewings just to catch all of the detailed actions in every corner of every frame.  Second, the camera work is stupendous.  Between it and the precisely mechanical performances from every actor, prominent and peripheral, we may as well be watching a $60M game of Halo.  It just really keys into that first person shooter atmosphere.

Now I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a sucker for striking visuals, and there are cases in which strong art direction can make up for what plot lacks, as far as I’m concerned.  I don’t mean to suggest Gamer has a bad story; quite the contrary.  The film’s a biting social commentary for the wired age.  It’s just that it has a pace that’s nothing short of frenetic, and this can get in the way of storytelling from time to time.

In terms of bonus features, the Gamer DVD is pretty standard issue.  There’s a directors’ commentary track and a couple of featurettes.  The first is “Inside the Game,” a lengthy and pretty fascinated making-of documentary that goes through casting choices, cinematography, stunt coordination, and weaponry, among other things.

The second one, “First Person Shooter: The Evolution of Red,” is considerably less interesting.  It discusses the decision to shoot on Jim Jannard’s Red One digital camera, but feels more like an extended commercial than anything else, which is particularly tragic on a DVD that already has more trailers on it than I’ve seen on any DVD in recent history.

Barring advertising, however, I still recommend a rental of Gamer at the very least.  The film’s a visual feast with a smart, multi-faceted script (albeit not so much in terms of character design/development), and it warrants a watching…so long as you’re in the mood for some crazy crazy stuff.

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