Video-game adaptations are traditionally bad movies. Rather than capture the spirit of the game or license they are based on, video-game movies tend to be cheap cash-ins lacking in quality and originality, aping the stories of other, more popular films, and slapping icons, such as Agent 47 from IO-Interactive’s Hitman series, or the Umbrella Corporation from the wildly popular Resident Evil series. While video game movies have a reputation for being bad, most actually provide some harmless, cheesy fun. Gamer is not one of these.
To call Gamer a bad video-game film would be a disservice to bad video-game movies, to call Gamer a bad movie would be a disservice to bad movies. Whether viewed as a connoisseur of video-games or a casual movie-goer, Gamer is an absolute pain to sit through, and an ugly, mean-spirited film that not only insults the culture of video-gaming, but the intelligence of humanity as a whole, but not for lack of trying.
On the surface, Gamer looks like the perfect video-game film, and a solid action blockbuster in its own right. Rather than being based on any existing license, Gamer tells its own story, giving it room to not only experiment and play with concepts and tropes in video-games, but to take an insightful look into the culture of video-gamers, and the possible effects (if any) that a world-wide acceptance of video-game and real-world violence could have on society. Add to that the films cast, including Keith David, Gerard Butler, and Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, and the directors of the viciously entertaining Crank films, and it’s hard to see how this movie could go wrong, but it does.
Gamer’s greatest flaws lie in its atrocious storytelling, which comes off as both pretentious and condescending due to its misdirected attempts at social commentary, and in its inability to feel like a video-game movie. It has been said that the directors of Gamer love video-games, but nowhere in this film does that show. They clearly love violence, as they go to great pains to show heads exploding, limbs tearing and blood spraying in detail, but it’s all so token and traditional of films of this type, that it does little to bring to mind the violent games it supposedly draws inspiration from.
The story of Gamer had the potential (as said before) to be something unique and special. With its semi-dystopian and corporate-controlled future, it had a chance to explore the many dangers of a society that not only glorifies violence, but actively markets these violent “real” video-games to the public. Instead, it’s a lazily written story that includes wrongly-convicted soldiers, top-secret and morally questionable experiments gone wrong, a corporate conspiracy to enslave humanity, Terry Cruise jiggling his pecs, and shoehorned, improperly used video-game terminology.
Our story follows the exploits of Kable (Gerard Butler), wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for the murdering soldiers. In this future, death-row inmates are chosen to be part of the worldwide phenomenon “Slayers” a “real” video-game where they fight for their lives in cordoned-off abandoned sections of cities, acting as battlegrounds for the game. The inmates don’t technically fight for their lives, as they are under the control (by way of magical computer chips) of their respective users, civilians that control the actions of their inmate through a virtual system, turning the users into the controllers and the inmates into the in-game avatars. Once it’s discovered that Kable is an unstoppable killing machine, what was to be his execution by video game, becomes his best chance for escape and his only hope of finding his wife again.
Make no mistake, nowhere in the confines of “Slayers” or the life simulation “Society” (a lazy, mindless, horrible attempt to poke fun at the popular Second-Life video game) does anything in this movie feel like it’s coming from the minds of actual gamers. The whole thing, and every video-game themed joke, gag, reference and tribute plays out like the imaginings of someone who’s only ever seen a video-game being played, but never played it themselves.
“Gamer” takes stabs at gamers and gaming culture at large, any chance it gets, but it never does so out of a self-referential sense of irony, or in the spirit of fun. It plays on clichés and gamer stereotypes, but it doesn’t challenge or satirize them, it merely points them out and ramps them up. “Gamer” takes place in a world where society is video-games, and in this society, gamers are crude, disgusting, self-indulgent parasites. They’re presented as rapists, murderers, pedophiles, gluttons, playboys, playgirls, celebrities, shut-ins, morons, geniuses, but never once are they presented as normal. These stereotypes exist, but in “Gamer” they’re all that exist. There is no grey area. In a world run by video-games, society is a disgusting, morally-bankrupt wasteland.
Even if it weren’t a failure as a video-game movie, it would still be a failure as a movie. Strip away the game-related aspects, and all that’s left is a poorly-written, badly directed and unoriginal movie, with a mean sense of humor, and zero self-awareness. The actors do the best they can with what they’ve got, though when they’re given such golden lines as “tighter than a nuns c**ch,” they’re fighting an uphill battle on a hill made of discarded razor-blades.
The action in gamer is ugly, undefined and poorly shot. Half the time the movie is going for a shaky, hand-held look, but it doesn’t work when it’s juxtaposed against the constant overlay of computer graphics. When the movie opens up, and the action takes place in larger arenas, there is too much slow-motion, and no focus or momentum to anything.
“Gamer” is a bad movie. It is the kind of bad that is so bad, it is insulting that people charged money for it. The only good thing to come out of this film is that it gave people jobs for a few months. It is an insult to gaming culture, to gaming as a pastime and to human intelligence altogether.