Gamer 2009 ★★½

I had mixed hopes for Gamer. On the one hand, movies about computer games tend on the whole not to be very good, on the other hand it had a pretty good pedigree and some of the clips from the trailer looked promising. The premise is simple, through the use of nano technology the human brain can be modified so that a person can be controlled remotely. Some people will pay for the ability to control people, and those who are controlled can get paid. The Sims made real. Alongside that, criminals on death row are offered the chance to be controlled in live first-person-shooter style games, with the promise of surviving 30 games giving them their freedom. The technology was developed and is sold by Ken Castle (played by Michael C. Hall) who is now a multi-billionaire.

Our grisly combat-savy hero (Gerard Butler) has survived 27 or so battles controlled by a young male gamer. As he nears his 30th match, things take a turn south.

One could be forgiven for thinking this was a remake / reworking of The Running Man. Certainly there are many similarities, prisoners given a chance at freedom for the entertainment of the masses, those in charge of the game being corrupt or manipulating the outcome and media interest in the whole thing. In fact, there are plenty of comparisons to be made to the recent Death Race movie as well. Given the plot in general isn’t that original, the movie really needed to bring something else to the table.

The pop culture references are entertaining, with the look of the Society game clearly modelled on many current real-world MMO’s, and there are a few pokes and prods at the mindsets of a certain type of game player. The dialogue is okay, it’s no where near as cheesy as I feared, and the pace clips along pretty well. The characters are interesting, but not very deep, and there’s a definite sense of having seen much of this film before elsewhere (the anti-establishment hackers in Johnny Mnemonic for example). The action scenes are brutal (you’ll recognise the writers/directors from Crank and Crank 2) but give you a good sense of being inside a first-person-shooter.

The first two thirds of the movie are the strongest, sadly once our hero inevitably comes up against the bad guy, all sense of danger is lost and the story becomes almost a parody of itself.

Gamer was mostly enjoyable, and I’m glad I saw it, but I think it was a huge missed opportunity. It could have been a classic, a solid action sci-fi movie with something serious to say about where culture is heading with on-line gaming. But I don’t think the writers/directors quite had the balls to pull it off. Maybe the screenplay was better and it lost something on the way to the screen, but the movie misses the mark too often. Which is a shame, because it deserved to be and had the root of something much bigger than it turned into.

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