Monday, February 1, 2010

Michael C. Hall Can Breach My Firewall Any Day...Especially February 1st

In honor of Michael C. Hall’s Groundhog’s Day’s Eve birthday, I give you my review of Gamer.
Oh. Are you wondering why I know that Dexter Morgan’s less sociopathic half will be eating cake tonight? Aside from the fact that I happen to be his casual stalker, I’m also his birthday buddy. So balloons and bawdy movies for all!
Quick Plot: In the near future, gaming has reached new levels of depraved reality. Remember the controversy of those Easter egg codes that let your Grand Theft Auto alter ego do more things to hoes than just punch them in the face? Pfff, that’s as antiquated as Paper Boy bicycle accidents on Gameboy ’89.
The current trend to gluttonously devour bourgeoisie leisure time is Society, the next-level Sim City wherein players can control the motor functions of real-life avatars wandering a neon-hued candyland of vice. What’s better than being a sweaty 300+ pounder of sweat and sin vicariously living through Amber Valleta (who just happens to use the same hair dresser as Milla Jovovich, circa The 5th Element)? Oh, there’s something.

How about using that same technology for a Running Man/The Condemned game, with graphics that make Metal Gear Solid look like Atari? Slayers takes death row inmates (convenient that there’s always a bunch of those guys lying around for these kinds of dystopian action romps, eh?) and puts them in life-or-death battles. Like Society, each “Slayer” has some fancy chipwork in his brain that allows human gamers to direct their bodies to point and shoot. What makes Slayers such a hit is the caveat that each man can actually be killed midst game.
Stepping into Jason Statham’s well-used shoes is Gerard Butler as John Tilman, aka Kable in the Slayer universe. Having survived 27 battles, Tilman is just three games away from winning his freedom and reuniting with his token wife and daughter. His puppet master is a spoiled rich kid Simon (well-played by Logan Lerman) who's slowly developing a conscience as a group of punk rebels plot to tear down the system of mind-controlled gaming.

Makes perfect sense, right? All this is the dream child of Michael C. Hall’s Ken Castle, a Steve Jobs-like genius with a silver tongue and smooth soft shoe. And naturally, a hazy set of morals that allows Gamer to summon a mean and manic spirit.

Written and directed by the Crank team of  Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, Gamer is a wacky ride into videogame hell. Like The Running Man, it’s a film built on an intriguing and intelligent concept that mixes morality with media, but unlike something like Total Recall, it doesn’t quite master the balance. There are some clever moments of satire sprinkled throughout, but once Ludacris’s real-world crusaders take over the ethics debate with vague statements about humanity, Gamer loses a bit of its edge. 

But you probably won’t rent Gamer for its political or social agenda, especially if you picked it up based on Neveldine and Taylor’s pedigree. As an action film, Gamer is decent enough, depending on your taste buds for fast cuts and hyperactive visuals. Butler imbues his hero with a sympathetic growl and believable edge, but but following him through the grainy war scenes or epilepsy-inducing rave rooms feels a little too, well, video game-ish for my sensibilities. Obviously, this is probably the point and not necessarily a general criticism. It’s just not my style.
Similarly, the virtual reality (to the extreme!) themes are explored in rather neat ways, even if the film doesn’t really have the time to deal with their possibilities. Yes, we’ve seen this story in The Matrix and other tales, but Gamer has a lot of fun with its premise, both for the serious-minding sci-fi fans and the action audience in need of a few good shootouts. 
High Points
Rhymes with Cycle Hee Mall. Granted, I’ve been a fan of his work since his complex David Fisher slowly learned to accept himself on Six Feet Under, but it’s truly a blast to see Hall get to have so much fun with a role he makes his own. Plus, dance moves!

Although a whole film set in Society would give me a sugar-rushed headache, the depiction of this world was rather innovative. Watching Amber Valleta blankly wade through an artificial landscape--her body knowing who she is but all motor functions betraying her--is fascinating and haunting.
Low Points
As someone with less skill at modern videogames than an arthritic senior citizen, I’m probably biased, but the fast edit game style action sequences simply felt a tad too jumbled for my senses to ever grip onto
The underground freedom fighters seem more like an easy connecting plot device than fully realized revolutionaries

Lessons Learned
Pistachio butter exists and it is awesome
Stockholders, take note: Best Buy will be in business for a long time
In the near future, the FCC will loosen regulations on language and cigarette use in primetime news
This is one of the few films reviewed here that people I actually speak to (in the real world) have seen, and of those flesh-and-blood breathers, none haven’t enjoyed Gamer. My main quibbles probably stem from my general lack of video game experience, but Gamer is a treat, particularly if you enjoy these kinds of media-centered action movies infused with a dose of sci-fi intelligence. The DVD includes an extensive featurette , crowded commentary, and a few more goodies that diehard fans will have fun with. Gamer is a little too light and muddled to be a future classic, but there’s a lot here to enjoy. 

Namely, this:

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