Review: Gamer isn't just offensive—it's irresponsible

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

If you are interested in watching a disgustingly fat, sweaty guy grope himself while manipulating a helpless woman wearing a hooker-rave outfit, then Gamer is the movie for you.

Exhausting the goodwill they engendered with Crank and especially its gonzo sequel, High Voltage, co-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor fortify a repellent display of violence and inhumanity in glib self-satisfaction and the most conventional sort of "shocking" vulgarity, creating a film that isn't merely offensive but borderline irresponsible, and all the more so because the filmmakers might consider that description a compliment.

Gerard Butler (300) plays Kable, the star of a real-life video game in the not-too-distant future where convicts are enlisted to battle one another in exchange for the possibility of a pardon. Controlled by a spoiled 17-year-old named Simon (Logan Lerman), Kable is but three victories away from release, but a malevolent, Bill Gates-like gamesmaster named Castle (Michael C. Hall) has other plans for him, specifically including death at the hands of a homicidal maniac named Hackman (Terry Crews). But when a group of rebels intervene to shut down Castle's dehumanizing but hugely popular sport, Kable finds himself caught between revolutionaries and a reunion with his estranged family, with the fate of a futuristic society hanging in the balance.

Truth be told, much of the above description is massive overstatement, because Gamer doesn't really have a plot, or at least not enough of one to inspire any kind of hanging-fate type of excitement. Essentially, Butler muscles his way through one incomprehensible action sequence after another while recognizable character actors like John Leguizamo, Keith David and Milo Ventimiglia pop up to provide enough exposition to get to the next sequence. Meanwhile, Neveldine and Taylor direct sequences as if throwing a rolling camera into the middle of a hot set counted as style; while this technique somehow worked in their earlier movies, in particular Crank 2 (which feels like The Godfather Part II by comparison), it simply deadens the viewer's response to anything that happens on screen—which one supposes is why they then resort to crass, knee-jerk images like the aforementioned sweaty blob in order to elicit audience reactions.

While just about everyone in the film is subjected to some form of indignity, I feel sorriest for Amber Valletta, who endures a cross-section of tacky, degrading outfits before being groped, humped and otherwise assaulted by other members of the cast. The fact that Gamer's target audience will revel in this kind of objectification makes the strongest cinematic case to date for the desensitizing effects of game playing, much less this kind of sub-moronic moviemaking; but whether Neveldine and Taylor have remotely considered the sociological implications of their world within a world, there's no evidence they are interested in exploring their ideas in more than the most superficial and offensive ways possible. Believe it or not, there is a difference between depicting action violence (even stylishly) and just documenting brutality, but it's obvious that these guys don't know the difference.

Ultimately, some people (presumably including the filmmakers themselves) will defend this film as mindless escapism, and generally speaking I'm as ready as anybody to switch off, plug in and immerse myself in some entertaining stupidity. But when a movie simply exudes sleaziness and, worse yet, uses it as a substitute for depth—all of which this one does—it loses me early and won't get me back. Like Rob Zombie's Halloween films, which are so obsessed with repulsive, foul-mouthed white trash that they forget they're supposed to be scaring people, Neveldine and Taylor indulge if not pay tribute to humankind's basest impulses, and then credit their own recklessness as an artistic flourish.

There aren't a lot of films that inspire full-fledged animosity toward their makers, but Gamer accomplished that dubious goal for yours truly. Whether or not there's a case to be made for video games as art, this movie certainly strengthens the case against, or at least proves that movies that are about games (much less basically are them) definitely are not art. Because as opposed to an actual game, where at least you get to participate in the mayhem, in Gamer you feel like a victim of it, or, at best, a spectator watching joylessly as Neveldine and Taylor go for their own personal high score—at the cost of characters, storytelling and, finally, good taste.