There's a line of dialogue in Gamer that pinpoints exactly what its fundamental problem is. A character played by Ludacris, known only as Humanz Brother, suddenly appears partway through the movie, his mug taking up the entire screen, and says, "This is not something you can control." Exactly. What Gamer does effectively is echo the gritty look and feel of a multiplayer free-for-all video game, dropping the characters in a random battlefield armed with guns and ammo with survival as their only mission. But playing a video game is a vastly different experience than watching a movie. If you take the controller away from the player, the video game becomes worthless and that is essentially what this movie does, hence rendering it irrelevant.
The film is about death row inmates who volunteer to play in a reality game called "Slayers" where they are physically controlled by gamers thanks to a chip placed in their bodies. The object of the game is to kill everybody and make it to the goal. If the inmate can survive for 30 rounds, he or she is free to return to civilization. Kable (Gerard Butler) is late in the game when we meet him, only a few rounds away from being released, but he quickly learns that there are no plans for him to be set free, so he defies the rules and breaks through the restricted zone into the real world.
I would say Gamer is all style and no substance, but there's not much style here either. Like a video game, it's nothing more than mindless violence wrapped around a vapid, incongruous story. But video games don't necessarily need a story to be entertaining because they are all about the gameplay. Movies, on the other hand, need competent acting, some type of emotion, a well structured narrative, and so on. This movie lacks many of those defining traits.
In what seems to be a growing fad in Hollywood, Gamer tries to preach a certain message while simultaneously contradicting itself by showing us exactly what it's preaching against. A couple of years ago, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry taught us to value everybody and not make fun of homosexuals, though the hour and a half preceding this lesson devalued everybody and interminably bashed homosexuality. Gamer tries to make a statement about how low we'll stoop for entertainment, but then offers us exactly what it's criticizing. It condemns us for wanting to see relentless bloodshed, but offers nothing more than that.
Or maybe I'm looking too much into it. Besides, Gamer is brought to us from the same guys who directed the awful Crank: High Voltage and much like that film, this one employs the frenzied, non-stop shaky cam technique, but ramps it up to 11. The absurdly frantic camera moves more than Beyonce's hips during a dance number and it gets pretty nauseating. It should come with a warning beforehand: "Those prone to seizures due to copious amounts of movement in an attempt to make the events at hand overly exciting, including one ferociously intense game of air hockey, should consult a physician before viewing."
Now, Gamer isn't as bad as Crank: High Voltage, but then again, Crank didn't take itself as seriously. When something stupid occurred, it was usually knowingly stupid. When something like that happens in Gamer, it's just poor filmmaking. Still, the action scenes are exciting and the performances, namely Butler and Michael C. Hall, who plays the main villain, are good. Sure, it's basically frenetic, asinine drivel, but you could do a whole lot worse than Gamer.
Gamer receives 2/5