Directed by: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
Premise: In the near future, a new style of video game has become popular, where gamers are able to take control of actual human beings within specialized environments. One of these scenarios is a sex club and the other is a battlefield where human avatars kill one another for real.
What Works: The first two thirds of Gamer is a very strong satire and an indictment of contemporary culture, nearing the brilliance and indignation of Network. This is a critique of capitalism, reality entertainment, and new media and Gamer conjures up an exaggerated nightmare scenario in which these three elements intersect. The dual games are a smart innovation; while Gamer is essentially repeating ideas that have been seen before in films like The Running Man, The Matrix, and Logan’s Run, this film takes it to another level. For one, the people involved are all volunteers recruited with the allure of money, fame, and the opportunity to surrender their body and mind. In this, the film has something to say about the way in which reality entertainment is akin to economic exploitation and prostitution. Secondly, the picture is smartly shot, with scenes of sex and violence within the virtual world designed to look like a video game, showing the disconnect between what is real and what is perceived, and thereby criticizing the way popular entertainment, and particularly “shooter” video games, have presented violence.
What Doesn’t: Gamer runs into trouble in the third act as the hero escapes from the game world. When sex and violence are staged inside of the games, they take on a digital look but that style continues outside of the game, which undermines the film’s theme. Gamer has many supporting characters, including a mad scientist-type who masterminds these virtual worlds, played wonderfully by Michael C. Hall, and a hacker played by Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges who leads an underground rebellion. These supporting characters don’t get enough screen time to make a great presence and their story lines are not balanced with the main plot very well.
Bottom Line: Gamer is about two-thirds of a great film. The picture runs into trouble in its finale but its intelligence, audacity, and self-awareness makes it an above average science fiction film.
Episode: #255 (September 13, 2009)