Set in a future-world where humans can control other humans in mass-scale, multi-player online gaming environments, a star player (Butler) from a game called "Slayers" looks to regain his independence while taking down the game's mastermind (Hall).
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Gamer is a slick new take on a very old story -- one essentially good man in a corrupt and bad old world.
The duo of Nevaldine & Taylor, also credited with the screenplay, directs with a hectic Tony Scott feel, lots of fast cutting and camera movement to the extent that barely two minutes in I was desperately hoping for something ELSE to happen.
Yeah, it feels like a video game, which is where we are -- at the center of "Slayers," a live action game with live ammo and real death, in which the players control death row inmates via nanotechnology.
It's a cool concept, and horrifying. Gamer grabs a lot of the more oppressive implications by the short & curlies, literally. Michael C. Hall plays a creepy, crooning demented version of Bill Gates, originator of the Slayers game and its predecessor, Society.
Society is like super-Sims, similar in some respects to the upcoming Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates in which people control robot avatars of themselves in the real world, allowing them to never leave their own homes.
In Society, in contrast, gamers control idealized avatars via the nanocells that have been injected into real-life people, "actors" whose bodies can be used for anything their temporary owners desire.
The portrayal of debauchery and excess within Society will hopefully be horrific -- but I doubt it will shock as much as, say, similar scenes in A Clockwork Orange when it first came out. We're just too inured to naked breasts and rave scenes to really react, or maybe it's just that the worst that happens in Society just seems way too familiar in a world where pornographic pop-ups greet you on every download site, and it's almost more difficult to avoid sexual web content than to find it.
A lot of the action sequences within Slayers' video game environment are overlong and repetitive, strange when they're obviously geared more to the short attention spanned gamers themselves than a more character-conscious audience. But the violent sections, especially early on, give the feeling that there's more to discover within them in a second viewing, like the information about plot and character is being relayed in such a non-traditional way that it's going to take some translation to understand.
The only thing that Gamer maybe doesn't do well is give us a good idea of what the world at large is like in the time the film is set. We see people willing to give up their own identities and free will for the sake of making a living, and others willing to pay for a control of others that they are don't know or can't work to achieve in their actual lives.
Kyra Sedgwick, Alison Lohman, and Ludacris are great in their small but pivotal roles. People aren't the real focus here as much as the overall atmosphere of a world gone out of control as it allows someone else at the most personal of wheels.
The character of Kable's wife is intriguing but not particularly developed, and is one of the great unexamined questions of the movie. Here is a woman who is willing to become an actor in Society, whose controller can make her say anything, do anything, have sex with anyone who takes his voyeuristic interest, and yet we have no idea why this was the job she chose. Did she have no other choice? How could she have made this decision lightly, especially when her profession all but guaranteed her child would be taken away from her?
It seems like a fairly depressing blueprint for the greater part of humanity, but has a ring of sad truth to it. Knowing that Butler's character Kable is fighting to reunite himself with his family doesn't seem to be a big enough goal -- especially when you wonder what they are going to have to live for even if they do get their freedom of will restored.
Like the Matrix movies, the ultimate question is not, "How will we survive?" but "What do we have to live for?" The film is successful at raising a lot of good questions about the nature of our relationship and co-dependence with technology, but perhaps doesn't want to look too closely at the implications of that complex bond.