Judge Eric Profancik now knows the secret to rebooting the Super Mario Bros. film franchise.
Dumb. That's the word that came to mind when I saw the trailer for Gamer. Obviously many others agreed as it bombed at the box office. While I won't spend $10 to see something that stupid at theaters, I'm not against reviewing or renting such a title for home viewing. I love action movies and quality explosions, and I believed Gamer would fill the bill. Knowing its history I expected a simple Blu-ray to while away a couple of hours. Oops. I was wrong.
Facts of the Case
With Ken Castle's (Michael C. Hall, Dexter) invention of "Society," a place where real people control other real people (i.e. living avatars) via computer, mankind began its abandonment of all sense of decency and morality. This technological innovation captured the world's attention, but in all things people got bored and wanted more. Enter "Slayers," a pay-per-view television series where convicts are controlled by other people in a multiplayer environment. It's playing a death match video game with real people who have to do what you tell them.
Why would convicts or the world agree to legalized murder? For if a convict survives 30 matches he wins his freedom. Kable (Gerard Butler, 300) has won 26 matches, more than anyone else in "Slayers" history. The world is entertained, Castle earns millions of dollars, but Kable cannot be allowed to win. Soon Kable and his controller, Simon (Logan Lerman, 3:10 to Yuma), find themselves caught in a tug-of-war between Castle and a group of rebels called "Humanz." Humanz decry what Castle has done, and they are infiltrating his system to put an end to all his games.
Gamer is one of those interesting juxtapositions of positive and negative. Clearly, Gamer is a bad movie. It's filled with a stupid plot reflecting today's society, less than exemplary acting, and enough editing cuts to cause an aneurism. I watched it, knew it was bad, knew it was derivative, and knew it was a highly polished turd; yet it somehow just isn't as bad as it should be. I honestly hate to say it, but I did enjoy Gamer—not a lot, but enough to tip the scales in its favor.
Coming from the deranged minds of Neveldine/Taylor (a.k.a. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the men behind Crank and Crank 2), Gamer is positively aimed at teenaged boys—despite its R rating. Boys of that age don't care about a cohesive, smart plot; they don't care this story is a blatant amalgamation of Death Race, The Running Man, and Surrogates; and they don't care if the actors can't act their way anywhere near an Oscar®. Nope. They are far more interested in the realization of videogames to the real world, with living avatars, and real people getting fragged. If that weren't enough, the boys can experience further excitation with the copious number of boobies and tight, skimpy outfits scattered throughout the film. Gamer is the actualization of that generation's wet dream.
What does that say about me in that I enjoyed this?
Adding to my confusion is the ample number of bigger, albeit B-list, names in this movie. How or why are they are part of this one? Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), Terry Crews (Friday After Next), Ludacris, Milo Ventimiglia (Rock Balboa), John de Lancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation), and John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge) are all in this movie. That's a lot of "talent" for such a whiff of a film. I think they've all done stuff with the dynamic duo before or have wanted to do something with them; but seeing Crank and now Gamer, I don't see the appeal.
The highlight of Gamer (or at least the part I believe will entice its target audience the most) is the "Slayers" segments. Here we have Kable, controlled by Simon, working through various abandoned environments, dodging bullets, explosions, and all manner of obstacles, to reach the save point—the end of the game. While the sequences definitely have some potential and some excitement, the outrageous and constant editing (and imposition of the GUI interface between Kable and Simon) are completely distracting. There's never more than five seconds before there's a cut or transition to something else. It's just chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, and who cares about long takes. I like long takes. I like to see a distinct progression and flow from A to Z, in more than iota-sized chunks. (Perhaps that's why I'll give all the Matrix movies some props as all the fight sequences have long takes.) On top of that, there's no larger flow to the action sequences. In one of the commentaries, the directors brazenly say "there's no way to storyboard such action sequences." The result is a level of randomness to the mayhem. Now, on the page, that sounds good. Visually, it doesn't work because you need certain flow to the battle. Still, stuff blows up good.
Even though we have a movie that fizzled at the box office, I was fairly confident that the Blu would rise above that. I was right. Gamer has terrific transfers, and for the boys that own this disc, it'll be something they pull out and show off to their friends. Video is a 1.85:1, 1080p print that showcases the garish and bright world of "Society" and that dark and gritty lair of "Slayers" with ease. Colors are accurate, bold (when necessary) and lifelike, blacks are well defined and deep, and details jump off the screen. You'll see every pore and whisker of stubble on Butler's face, not to mention every disgusting ounce of blubber on the man who controls Angie (Amber Valletta, Transporter 2), Kable's wife, in "Society." It's a great print with no significant errors jumping out at me. Audio is even better with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that is loud, aggressive, and working to make you go deaf. Every channel is alive and actively used to pull you into the mix with clear dialogue from the center, surrounds that literally never stop, and an LFE track that thumps but never gets muddy.
Because we have a movie that fizzled at the box office, I was fairly confident that the Blu wouldn't sport a lot of bonus material. I was wrong. I was positively dismayed at the abundance of commentary tracks that littered the menu. Seeing as I was but borderline in enjoying the film, I wasn't that keen on spending hours more with the film. What's on the lineup?
• I-Con Mode: This is how you do bonus material on a Blu-ray. I-Con Mode is a visual commentary where Neveldine/Taylor step onto the screen and dissect their movie as it plays behind them. They very often pause and rewind the movie, sharing pertinent details to the scenes you're watching. Deleted scenes are sometimes cut back in, behind-the-scenes featurettes will play, and other manner of in-depth goodies are brought to life. Though their presentation is quite quirky, I love this feature (not necessarily Neveldine/Taylor). It should be on more and more discs. Also of note, while the movie runs an hour and a half, this feature runs two hours and 10 minutes!
• Gamer Cheat Codes: Another commentary but this time you hit your enter button to go into a special picture-in-picture commentary. Nowhere near as good as I-Con Mode.
• Audio Commentary with Neveldine, Taylor, Amber Velletta, Alison Lohman, and Terry Crews. Though this is listed first on the menu, it's the least interactive and least interesting. It does impart some tidbits, but we really don't need three different commentaries on this movie.
• "Inside the Game" (1:19:42) is an extensive making-of feature on the movie. It's divided into three parts—cleverly called Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3—and you'll know more than you ever wanted about the movie.
• "First Person Shooter: The Evolution of Red" (16:45) discusses how Neveldine and Taylor saw this new digital camera, called Red, and decided they had to use it on this film. We learn of that process and its benefits and weaknesses in the movie.
Rounding out the special features are a few odd things. You have two trailers for Gamer—the official trailer and an "unseen" version. The bonus feature menu points you to download two free apps for your iPhone. The first is BD-Touch, which allows you to use your phone as a remote control for your BD player. (Cute idea but totally unnecessary when you already have a remote.) Next is Metamenu, which requires you to create an account, and I didn't do it so it doesn't really work; but it's supposed to give additional streaming content to the film but you can see it on your phone. The disc menus all tap into BD-Live and stream news, the correct time, and local weather on screen. The disc is D-Box enabled. Lastly, a digital copy is included on a second disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm still at a loss to figure out why I don't hate Gamer. This movie isn't fresh, it's a sad reflection of the times, and it's quite ludicrous. Is it really that easy to sway me with some interesting explosions, slow-mo, and boobies? I don't know but that has to be the case. Though I'm well past my teen years, the buttons being pushed by Neveldine and Taylor still resonate in me and make me cut the movie quite a bit of slack.
I've pleaded my case of confusion with Gamer. It is a bad movie, but it may have some redeeming qualities for teenage boys and those looking for a cheap thrill. It does have some great transfers and voluminous bonus features, so those who dig the movie will definitely be very happy with this disc. For anyone simply mulling this one over, please rent it first. Don't do a blind buy. You need to see it before spending twenty bucks on it.
Gamer is hereby found guilty of generating too much lag.
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