Lionsgate // 2009 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 13th, 2013
Before Gamer, I never had a problem with Neveldine/Taylor. I thought both Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage were beautiful little one-off movies that showed a potent mix of narrative immediacy, videogame influence, and star power in Jason Statham. I wouldn't want every movie to have that Red Bull-charged editing style but if they want to put out a movie every couple of years I won't complain at all. Unless, of course, if that movie is Gamer, which takes everything interesting about the Neveldine/Taylor aesthetic and hammers viewers over the head with it. The results is an on-the-nose actioner that feels more repetitious and tiring than it does exciting and invigorating. The inclusion of 3D in Gamer 3D (Blu-ray) does nothing to help the situation.
In the near future American has descended into a technological dystopia where condemned criminals are eligible for freedom if they survive thirty rounds of a deadly game where they're controlled by videogame players out in the real world. All of these activities are ruled over by megalomaniacal software genius Castle (Michael C. Hall, Dexter). However, when Kable (Gerard Butler, 300) gets closer to winning his freedom, Castle pulls every trick to keep him from his goal.
It was obvious from the first frame of Crank that video games were a potent influence on the visual aesthetics of the Neveldine/Taylor universe. Whether it's following a single character like a first-person shooter or the near-cartoon levels of (apparently survivable) violence, Crank owes as much to video games as it does to that fable creature "MTV-style editing" (which always means fast cuts and lots of visual information). Sure, Crank played like an coke-addled Tony Scott homage, but the brilliance of the film was that it's excesses were all justified by a plot so brutally simple that it's amazing it took several decades of action flicks to arrive at it. In the process the film proved that video game aesthetics could influence film without directly mimicking the in-game experience.
The problem with Gamer is that it completely throws away those lessons. Instead, it tries the mimic the experience of playing and watching a videogame at the same time, and the results are so gratingly on-the-nose that the film is tiring before the first act is completed. All the sound and fury that helped make Crank interesting is wasted here on a plot that's been done to death so many times that not even the shock of rapid editing and crazy camera moves can bring it back to life.
The 3D aspects don't really do much to help the film, either. The 3D experience is often referred to as "gimmicky," and that's nowhere more evident than with this release. Bringing things out of the screen only makes me realize how shallow so many of the scenes really are, and the rapid editing tends to created motion blur, which is only accentuated by the 3D effects. I guess if you loved it the first time around, then there's just more to love with this 3D version, but I doubt it's going to tempt most viewers to give the film a rewatch.
The Gamer 3D (Blu-ray) release is a bit of a mixed bag. It's a single BD disc that includes 2D and 3D version of the flick, along with an Ultraviolet digital copy. First, the good. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC/MVC (for the 3D)-encoded transfers are excellent in both 2D and 3D configurations. Detail is strong from the hi-def source, with colors well saturated and black levels staying consistent and deep throughout. Slightly better is the DTS-HD 7.1 track, which is enveloping and bombastic throughout. Dialogue is fine, but it's the score and sound effects that reign supreme, and from the high end to the low, they overwhelm the listener with clarity and precision.
There is, however, a downside. Almost all of the extras from the previous 2D Blu-ray have not been ported over. The only remaining extra is a 80-minute making-of feature. It's a solid doc that gives most of the details one could want, but gone are the audio commentary, visual commentary, and various other smaller bits. It's not a huge complaint since most people who buy this are going to already own the previous release, but it's slightly annoying that this isn't a definitive release.
On the plus side, Gerard Butler is always dependable as the square-jawed leading man. He does a fine job here as the focus for our sympathies, and while he's not as cut as he was for 300, he's still got the goods to pull of such a physically demanding role. The greater role, though, goes to Michael C. Hall. I get the sense that he was perhaps feeling a little bottled up playing the serial killer on Dexter and Gamer provides the perfect opportunity for him to really dig into his megalomaniacal role, chewing scenery with aplomb. They're the only things that kept me from turning Gamer off after the first 10 minutes.
Each individual action sequence is well done in itself. I think they add up to a repetitive and ultimately boring whole, but take one at a time each is a masterpiece of editing and visual insanity. Though it never coheres for me, fans of Neveldine/Taylor seemed to like this flick well enough, and if you enjoyed either of the Crank flicks, then you probably owe it to yourself to give this one a shot.
Gamer isn't a terrible film per se, but it does show that not even the hyperkinetic visuals of Neveldine/Taylor can overcome a lack of compelling characters and a well-drawn plot. The idea of using videogame inspired visuals in a film about a kind of videogame seems like a good idea, until viewers realize it's not that much fun to watch someone else play, especially when it's someone you don't know and couldn't care less about. The 3D aspects of the film aren't that bad, but the lack of extras means that fans are going to want to own more than one Blu-ray of Gamer to get the full experience. Fans of Crank should give this flick a rental, while those who haven't seen Crank but want to see where action flicks might be headed should check out that film first.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* 2D Version
* Digital Copy
* UltraViolet Copy