Unicorns with DayGlo horns don’t violate anyone in Gamer, but such footage could quite easily be on the cutting-room floor. Dispensing with any rules is an action film that includes soliloquies about pistachio butter, a car fueled by way of vodka-soaked urine and vomit and a West Side Story–esque dance sequence to make Jerome Robbins proud.
In other words, it’s your typical film from Neveldine/Taylor (Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage). Were Stanley Kubrick and Russ Meyer alive and their minds merged Being John Malkovich–style, the clash of their ids and egos might yield Gamer. Lurid? Constantly. Stupid? Never. Know Gamer will make you feel a bit putrid, but it’s audaciously entertaining — simultaneously satirical, silly, sadistic and salacious.
Gamer takes an old idea — wrongfully imprisoned man in a murder-for-sport scenario — and blows off its dust, NES style, to make it work. The competitors’ blood is their own. Their military maneuvers and murders are not. Players in an interactive pay-per-view game control their actions, like psychically controlled Miis.
Slayers, as the game is known and garishly marketed worldwide, is the brainchild of Ken Castle. Michael C. Hall (Dexter) plays Castle as what can best be described as a genius hillbilly — a cross between Ashton Kutcher and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ Z-Man who individually sniffs potato chips for freshness and has a penchant for dance. That is to say it’s 2009’s best male villain performance thus far, filled with tics, tantrums and snark.
Convicted murderer Kable (Gerard Butler of 300) is the top player in Slayers, controlled by bratty teen Simon (Logan Lerman). Kable is a handful of wins away from freedom in a game where losing means dying. Anyone who’s seen Death Race, The Running Man or, God forbid, The Condemned knows a conspiracy is afoot.
Aided by the Humanz movement (which uses amusing 8-bit graphics in guerrilla messaging), Kable seeks to break free from Slayers and Simon’s control. By doing so, he can take down Castle’s fascistic empire and find his daughter and wife, Angie (Amber Valetta). Angie is trapped as a sex slave in Society, a Castle creation that’s a real-life Sims with more jiggling butts and breasts than an hour of Yo! MTV Raps.
Neveldine / Taylor’s world is a wholly psychedelic realm of hyper-connectivity — a grotesquely fleshed-out conflation of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and social networking in a feverishly dystopian hell. Although a tonal opposite to Idiocracy, it shares that film’s freak-show future spirit. That film’s co-star, Terry Crews, also turns up here as a reanimated uber-killer who can make the sentence, “Look at me, bitch” feel menacingly like an 18-syllable proclamation of death.
Gamer’s repulsions — and there are many — are specific and sickening, but they’re on point. Syrup and waffles have never seemed so disgusting, and that’s just the start of things with a morbidly obese sweat monster controlling Angie in Society.
One character puts a pregnant pause between the words “minute, vivid detail,” and Gamer is packed with them – from savvy game-culture touches (note the character walking into the wall repeatedly in the war zones) to nightmarish nightclubs where humans reenact Newton’s Cradle and splattered blood is bathed in blacklights.
Surprisingly, where Gamer is weakest is in its action scenes. Operators of their own camera, Neveldine / Taylor move it with all the frenzy of a baby kicking its way out of the womb. It’s nigh impossible to make heads or tails of careening bodies and cars.
And there are flat-out awful performances here, namely from John Leguizamo (cashing his check after mimicking Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys) and Kyra Sedgwick (bearing the ghastly, emphasized frown lines and fat lips of a Disney villain). Butler also embodies his career’s problem: Does he want to be a reliably brutal butt-kicker like Jason Statham or a flawed hero with relatable anguish like Russell Crowe?
Imperfections aside, Gamer is a story ably told by filmmakers talented at insanity, even if they’re not insanely talented. It’s brilliantly bugnuts and creates a genre that can best be called pix-spoitation.