Friday, September 11, 2009

Movie Review: Gamer

I'm in danger of treading on liberal movie-reviewer ground here. I want to recommend a movie that I found lacking cinematically, but one that nevertheless carries an approved message. And also carries Gerard Butler, of whom I can't get enough in ultra-masculine roles.

The movie is Gamer. The plot is simple and familiar: A death-row inmate named Kable (Butler) is a pawn in a popular real-life war game that looks awfully similar to ultra-realistic combat video games. He's made it through 27 games. If he makes it through 30, he goes free. Think Gladiator meets Death Race 2000 with a twist of The Matrix.

During the game (called Slayers), Kable is controlled by a bored and spoiled teenage video-game prodigy. Never mind how this is accomplished -- it's explained in the movie in one of those techno-babble scenes reminiscent of Star Trek: The Next Generation and other shows that think they have to include this stuff to seem believable. The same technology is used to create human pawns for another game, called Society, that's apparently very much like Second Life or the Sim Society games, but given how much society has deteriorated in the movie you can guess which human activity this game revolves around.

Kable's wife (Amber Valletta), who is now broke and trying to get their daughter back from protective services, is an "actor" in Society. She is controlled by a sweaty, naked, morbidly obese loser who, from the looks of it, probably lives in his mother's basement.

These games have made their creator, a sadistic young genius named Castle, a multi-billionaire. An underground group called the Humanz wants to stop Castle. They contact the teenager controlling Kable in an effort to convince him to relinquish control in the next game so that Kable can escape, and the action goes from there.

Unfortunately, the first half of the movie is weighed down by extreme over-editing and that single-most irritating cinematic fad-that-just-won't-go-away: the shaky-cam. I spent much of the first half looking at the floor to avoid the dizzying fast-cuts and jittery images. (Movie editors, here is a creed by which to live: Just because you can edit, doesn't mean you should.) The camera work eventually settles down and once you can watch the movie and follow the action, there's a compelling theme, though it's not as developed as it could've been.

The movie seemed to be commenting on the trend of increasing detachment through video games and the Internet, even suggesting that real-life combat and sex games are an inevitable step in the progression towards depravity and dehumanization in our over-indulged, entertainment-obsessed culture. If we're not careful, we will become so weakened, as individuals and as a society, that we are in danger of becoming slaves.

Though the movie ostensibly takes a swipe at sadistic corporate weirdos, I'm certain the intended real-life counterpart is not employed in the private sector. Consider. At one point, after Kable escapes the game (don't accuse me of spoiling the plot; you knew this was inevitable), he meets with the Humanz who explain the situation to him:
It ain't just a game, you know. Everyday there's more people stepping forward, wanna be a part of Castle's world. Throwing away everything it means to be human.

Right now it's the desperate ones. Convicts, addicts, the sick, the poor... the ones that fell through the cracks. They have no choice.

But this is only the beginning.

Think about it: the federal prison system is growing out of control, set to bankrupt the whole damn USA. Castle rides in on a white horse, says he got a plan to bail us out and everyone just falls in line.

So what's next? The health care system is collapsing. Castle comes in to the rescue again.

This time he's pushin' total control of genetic disease. Birth defects a thing of the past. All we gotta do is exchange our cells for the ones he wanna give us.

The promise of a longer life and a fatter wallet -- you think people will refuse?

Hell, no.

They'll be standing in line to hand their babies over to him. Next think you know, we all slaves.
You could argue this dialogue is subtle enough that one can decide how to read it, but I read it as decidedly, and surprisingly, critical of our Dear Leader. Just as surprising is that it was delivered mostly by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges.

Well, God, you win. I asked for a movie -- just one movie, any movie -- with a message that doesn't indict traditional morality, religion, conservatism, soldiers, masculinity, or families. Maybe I should've specified a good movie, but I didn't. I got what I asked for.

I can't recommend Gamer on its cinematic merits, because it doesn't really have any, but it has an interesting theme and one golden moment in which, for once, the criticism is aimed in a new direction.


Anonymous Templar said...

I'll try and say something about Gamer eventually, but first I just want to let you know that the Solomon Kane trailer is finally up:

9/13/2009 8:00 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

"There are many paths to redemption -- not all of them are peaceful."

I'll definitely be seeing this!

Glad to see you're still around, Templar.

9/13/2009 10:47 PM  

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