Gamer Review

Published 6 years ago by , Updated September 7th, 2009 at 10:01 pm,

Short Version: Never quite reaching the “Good” mark and hovering just below “OK,” Gamer opens the 2009 Fall movie season with plenty of shooting, death, blood and confusion.

gamer gerard butler as kable michael c hall Gamer Review
Screen Rant’s Paul Young reviews Gamer

I’ve written this review for Gamer three times now and with each iteration I just can’t seem to find that slightly mocking tone I like to use so much – not to mention each one has been over 2000 words long and there is no way this movie deserves that much effort.  But I thought, “Am I’m trying too hard to be a ‘professional’ movie critic? No one really listens to them very much; people would rather listen to what their friends think of the movie. I wonder if we have any more Twinkies and Cheez-Wiz?” I’m just telling you what I thought; I never said I would edit those thoughts.

So I’ll tell you the same thing I told my buddy after watching Gamer, “It’s completely worth the $5 matinee price I paid to watch it.” There is no way I’d paid full admission to watch this movie because, frankly, it just isn’t worth $9 – $12 of my hard earned money. If you don’t catch it this weekend for the matinee price, no worries, just grab it during the week or wait until next weekend and turn it into a double feature by watching 9 afterwards. Trust me, you are not going to miss anything special by waiting a few days.

Now, I don’t want to ruin the movie for you (the directors do a good enough job of that already) but I will give you a synopsis…

Gamer is set “years from this very moment” where advertising is allowed on everything, including the Great Pyramids. Egomaniacal software magnate Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) has invented a brain controlling product called Nanex that allows the mental control people by other people. He uses prison convicts to play out bloody battles called “sessions” in his game “Slayers,” that he then charges the entire world to watch via pay-per-view.

Enter convict Kable Tillsman (Gerard Butler) who has survived 27 sessions in the brutal game of life or death – three more sessions and he is a free man. But Kable holds a secret that Castle can’t afford to have get out, so he introduces convict Hackman (played by a very large Terry Crews) to the game – but here’s the rub: Unlike Kable, Hackman isn’t being controlled by a player and holds a major advantage.

There is also a group of rebels (for lack of a better word), called Humanz led by Ludacris, who aren’t hip to Castle’s mind control jive, and feel Kable is the key to bringing him down; but instead of protesting, they hang out in an abandoned basement, playing air hockey and old Atari console games, and hacking Castle’s signal causing him much grief, while trying to break Kable out of the game.

gamer 1 Gamer Review

Why wear a jacket when you're not wearing pants?

Once out, Kable seeks vengeance on Castle for framing him for murder, turning his wife (Amber Valletta) into a whore in his other game “Society” – think The Sims with real people – and taking away his daughter. Why did Castle do all this? Your guess is as good as mine. After you watch the film and figure it out please let me know because as far as I can tell, it was never explained. So basically, at the end of the day, Gamer is nothing more than a weakly told story of one geek’s ill-conceived attempt at world conquest (YAWN).

Let me quickly list the good parts of Gamer: Gerard Butler’s acting.

Now the list of the bad parts of Gamer: Everything else, including Gerard Butler’s character.

Confused? So was I. Honestly, I like Gerard Butler in just about everything he does, Nim’s Island, 300 and even the romantic (un)comedy The Ugly Truth, but he is at his best when playing the action hero. He has the chiseled look for it, the acting chops to pull it off and he has a good chance of replacing one of the great 80′s action heroes; but here, Butler can’t do much with the script or direction from Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.

Gamer is filled with so much violence, shooting, blood, explosions, flying body parts, exposed breasts, lesbians, and perversion that one would think it was written by two frat boys on a binger. Wait, Neveldine and Taylor also wrote both Crank films so I guess I’m not too far the mark there. I enjoyed both Crank films, so I was really looking forward to watching Gamer, but this attempt seemed more focused on inserting as many cameos for TV actors than any sort of plausible story.

Seriously look at this list of cameos:

John Leguizamo, Zoe Bell, James Roday and Maggie Lawson (both from Pysch), John de Lancie (Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) who has the best cameo in the movie.

milo ventimiglia gamer Gamer Review

Amber Valetta and Milo "Rick Rape" Ventimiglia

Only people missing were Brendan Fraser and Carmen Electra, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they were in there somewhere. Everyone’s cameos feel forced and really serve no purpose in the film other than to just have them in there.

In fact, now that I look at the actors and actress involved, it looks like the directors/writers were trying to put as many TV actors into this movie as possible. Michael C. Hall (Dexter) and Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer) are seriously miscast here and Sedgwick could have been removed from the movie entirely without the story suffering one bit. The only purpose she serves in the movie is to show how a 49 year old woman looks in face glitter.

I was really looking forward to seeing how Hall would shake the Dexter mold and break out on his own but apparently all anyone could think of to make him different was a bad southern accent and a lollipop. I hope he gets better roles in the future because he didn’t need to be in this film. I have to mention the “dance and fight” scene near the end. I literally looked at the screen and mouthed “W…T…F” when it happened. What’s funnier, someone in the theater actually said the words to my acronym.

So what actually works? The action at the beginning of Gamer is pretty intense, although the shaky camera work will hurt your head if you’re sitting too close, and is quite visceral in most places. But just like a video game, it soon becomes repetitive and boring. Everything else: story, acting, pacing, plausibility, just falls flat.

The writers have filled Gamer with every possible misconceived notion of the video gamer sub-culture that they knew. I still can’t tell if they were poking fun at the culture, trying to  explain it to the uneducated masses or heck, maybe they think gamers are really like this because the story as a whole just flops around like fish on the dock, gasping and waiting for someone to put it out of its misery.

gamer 3 Gamer Review

Gerard Butler and a very scary sneer

And for a movie called Gamer, it really doesn’t dig into the “gaming” side of the story very much. If audiences were to believe what they are watching, then the only people playing online video games are young teenage losers, fat invalid perverts and old Asian people. That is seriously the only people they show playing either of the two games “Society” and “Slayer”.

There are literally dozens of men with guns shooting each other during each “session” but we only ever get to see one kid, Simon (Logan Lerman), controlling his icon, Kable. Maybe a better title would have been “Controlled,” since that was the main focus of the movie.

Addressing the gamer stereotype: Simon is a 17 year kid that sits in a special room with holographic images around him, upgrading his icon, downloading porn and video chatting with girls who are willing to pay him or strip just to spend time with his icon. He even gets a couple of 17 year old twins willing to flash the headlights and spend $50 million Euros for the opportunity. OK, so slacker, loser, horn ball teen that does nothing but play online games all day – Check!

And in the game “Society”, were there are thousands of people playing the game, we are only shown 3 – an old Asian woman, an old Asian man and a big, fat, nasty, man living by himself. Unlike the people in “Slayer,” people in “Society” get paid to become icons for others giving over their bodies to be played by other people. It would have been an interesting concept if done properly, but the writers choose, instead, to show the perverted and twisted side of human nature.

gamer 4 Gamer Review

Zoe Bell looking hideous in corn rows.

In fact, the whole concept of Gamer was poorly handled and when it’s all said and done, Gamer is a mostly forgettable installment in the “downfall of society” genre and shows just how low Hollywood thinks we will eventually stoop for entertainment. Like I mentioned before, unless you get discount passes or the early bird special, skip Gamer and cross your fingers that 9 will start the fall season out right.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. I had little interest in this movie from the previews, and now I have none. Thanks for saving me my time and money, Paul!!

    Oh, and where the heck do you have matinees for $5? Where I live they’re $7.25 and $9.50 for regular showings.

  2. Action, action and action is what it’s all about. For people who are looking for that it must be at least a 2.5 or 3.

  3. action smaction. Any one who thought this movie was going to be anything above a two is just an action sheep. And since its from the same people who gave us two failures in the form of Crank 1 and 2 I wouldn’t expect much of anything ESPECIALLY quality.

  4. you guys want awesome action and plenty of it? check out the new Halo game trailer. It’s live action and it looks sick! And I’m not even a Halo fan.

  5. @ Andy S

    Where I live,we have matinee shows at the AMC 30 for $6 and the regular shows are $10

    @ SIN187UM

    I rather enjoyed both Crank movies,the first one more so than the second,but they are those type of movies that if you expect them to be more than what they are,then you are just fooling yourself.

  6. I thought this movie was good, only for the fact that is about videogames.

  7. You can’t go to movies like this, expecting anything. I knew the action was gonna be good. I knew the story line was going to be tolerable, the acting ok, and the overall expectation to be what it was. Good. To many people go to movies hoping each and every one they see will be great. I have little expectation for certain movies. Especially a movie like this. For the skeptics, just go and have your own take. I no longer listen to critics. A lot of critics are way too critical. I think they have no business being that critical. Especially when they never even came close to directing a movie.

  8. For an action movie, the action sequences were my least favorite part. Go figure the irony in that. Like you said, they were repetitive and boring. At least the dancing/fight at the end (albeit odd and completely out of place) offered something different to the mix.

    I will have to say that I enjoyed Simon’s character. More particularly, the interaction between Simon and Kable. I think the movie could have been handled better if they showed more interaction/growth between the two characters.

    ‘Gamer’ was by no means a great movie, but its worth a watch if you’ve got the time/money.

  9. @Aaron – I agree with you which why I addressed it in the review. I would have liked to see more between the other “gamers” and their icons. Maybe some smack talk between the “gamers themselves. And yes, the dance scene at the end was trying to be different but it came across just totally weird.

    @jason – “To many people go to movies hoping each and every one they see will be great.” Um, that’s why I shell out my money. What would be the point of paying good money to watch something that is total crap? If I went to the junkyard and bought a car I wouldn’t expect it to be new. The thing is I’m not going to the junkyard, I’m going to the dealer, and yes if I pay money I expect it to be new. If I come away with junk then of course I’m going to be upset.

    I’m not sure if your comment about critics is directly related at me, but I pretty much addressed that issue in the opening paragraph.

  10. Well, the matinee at a theater a close 10 minutes to me is only $2.50 :D , so this movie was definitely worth the ticket price. And Paul I know that Hall didn’t really get a chance to play a great character, I think he just wanted to play a very flamboyant character as opposed to his very laid back, very calming character of Dexter(which he is amazing in BTW) and although I also thought “WTF?” during the lip sync and dance to the Sammy Davis Jr. song I also thought it was sorta funny and the fight after it was interesting. I’d give this a 2 or 2 1/2, it was ok and like Paul said completely worth the cheap matinee ticket price. Especially if you live close to a really cheap theater like me. ;)

  11. Boy
    They really can’t fight that unyeilding urge to put people in extremely gay flamboyant outfits. Even for a macho homoerotic film, they gotta gay it up like Liberace.

  12. One of the main problems in this movie : Ludacris

    The guy CAN’T ACT (can’t rap either, but that’s a whole different discussion). Stop putting him in movies. WTF was he doing in Max Payne? Playing the role of a chubby white guy? Effing hollywood would rather cast a POP STAR than an actual ACTOR just to make a few more bucks.

    That’s my rant, but seriously, almost ruined the movie for me.

  13. @ ogb

    Ludacris was the reason I almost didn’t go to see the movie, but I was pleasantly surprised that he didn’t get a lot of screen time.

  14. good point ogb. they would rather put a face in the movie than an actor. every movie producer or whatever obviously has financial goals so this will usually be the case.

  15. @ Longshanks

    So what you are saying is that I should not have expected Crank 2 to be any better than the first Crank seeing as how it sucked. Im not expecting scenematic genius, but at the same time don’t half ass stuff, or just pile on a bunch of bs and think Im supposed to just oh well its an action flick so its ok.

  16. I didn’t have a HUGE problem with Ludacris other than the fact that every time he was on screen it was via some sort of gimmicky old school blue/red wire frame video.

  17. @ ogb

    Ludacris is not a pop star. Why would you expect outstanding acting from some one who is not a professional actor.

  18. I’m using POP STAR loosely here and he is definitely a POP STAR.

    And if you’re going to criticize me about my “expectations”, why not ask why they are putting a person who’s NOT an actor in a FILM?

    I have no problem with rappers/pop stars being cast as long as they cast them in roles they can pull off. Ice Cube in Boyz in Da Hood, perfect example of a rapper cast well. Common in Street Kinds had the best scene of the entire movie because he played a thug, which is what he raps about. But casting Ludacris as Lt. Jim Bravura in Max Payne was one of the worst castings I’ve seen in a long time. His acting is bad and it’s really distracting when you’re trying to get into the movie.

  19. Ludacist is only in the film to bring in the gang member demo. This looks like loser/rapper/gang memeber Oscar winning material.

    I saw this trailer before “District9″ and within 5 seconds I already made up my mind that it was complete garbage.
    Then Micheal C Hall came up and I was like you Paul, “WTF?”. Why he would do this kind of film boggles the mind. Also that Milo kid from Heroes is totally overated.

    Lifes to short to waste on this kind of movie… I will never see this “film”.

  20. I actually liked it, I pretty much figured it was gonna be around the same calibur as Death Race and Doomsday, which I also both like and it pretty much was. I also think I might be slightly biased as I saw Kieth Jardine in it which i got a kick out of then as watching I noticed it was filmed in Albuquerque NM which is where I live so I enjoyed it all that much more.

    If you go into this movie with the right mindset, which is to watch a movie you dont need to think about just to relax and have fun, then your gonna get your moneys worth. I think some of the action and CGI was pretty impressive, I always like seeing peoples vision of the next gen computing world.

    I think if you ARE a GAMER you will like this movie.

  21. Well said Richard

    I think ppl have a hard time separating a “good” film from an “entertaining” film. PPL like Vic say “why can’t we have both”? And there are examples of such movies but why not have those separate? PPL want too much and expect too much.

    I went into this movie same way I went into Death Race and Transformers 2, just to enjoy an entertaining action movie. And in that sense I was completely satisfied. Money well spent. Yes I will forget about this movie soon. No, it’s not as good as D9 or Basterds. But it never set out to be that kind of a movie. I’d rather watch an entertaining movie such as this, then sit through a “good” film (who decides that btw? the oscars?) such as The Reader, which bored me to tears and I left the theater almost depressed, lol.

    Btw, it’s cool to see Jardine popping up in Gamer and Crank 2, too bad his reputation as a fighter has suffered lately, especially after that KO loss to Thiago Silva.

  22. @ogb – I don’t think The Reader was that good of a movie either but what makes it “good” from a critical viewpoint was the story. It made sense and was written well, it just wasn’t a very interesting story.

    I think movies can be both good and entertaining at the same time and I think it’s a cop out to say they can only be one or the other. Again, if you will notice, I said this film was worth $5 but that doesn’t mean it was good.

    Just because a film enters the action genre doesn’t mean it can throw out all sense of reality and just expect the audience to “shut off they brains” and accept it. Moviegoers should demand and expect better from Hollywood and then maybe Hollywood will give us better.

    The writers here didn’t even feel it was necessary to explain the motivation behind why Kable was in prison. That to me is unacceptable.

  23. I knew this movie was going to suck and after being forced to watch it by a friend I discovered it was pretty much as bad as I thought it would be. I did enjoy it slightly more than transformers, but that isn’t saying much. There was decent acting which was nice, but everything else was horrible. Milo and Gerard did great.

  24. Pass or Play?

    I’ll pass.

    Looks like ‘Death Race 2000′ meets ‘The Running Man’. All it needs is Richard Dawson.

    Thanks for verifying what I suspected Paul.

  25. Paul

    I know what you’re saying but you’re still clinging on to “movies can be both good and entertaining”. Of course they can and those are the movies we remember and talk about and rate very highly. But what’s wrong with those that could not achieve that status? Not every one is as talented as Spielberg, Nolan, etc. And even these guys started out making some mediocre movies (except Nolan :) ) I grew up on Van Damme, Stalone and Arnold movies, which for the most part were just action movies. But I loved them and I still do. They’re entertaining.

    My personal preference is that movies should try to entertain more so than just be good. Again, The Reader, yes a good story but boring film, depressing. If I want a good story, I can read a book or watch a documentary. It’s up to the film maker to get you interested in the story via some form of entertaining, which can be achieved with great cinematography, great acting, some kind of action, etc.

    And this whole notion that if something is not explained means it’s a plot hole is also getting ridiculous. I know that’s not what you said but most criticisms of D9 were that of the unexplained events in the movie. Do we need to be spoonfed everything? What happened to using your imagination? I personally like it when the director shows you the way but you figure out the steps to get there yourself.

  26. i dont think this is even going to be released here in australia, i havent seen the release date for aus hehehe must be that bad.
    i hope much like you that this years animated movies arent as terrible as everything else that has been released

  27. @ogb – All I’m asking for is a little continuity. Action movie now have forgotten how to do that. I mean, Kable throws up and pees into a truck that just happens to run on ethanol only?

    The problem with Gamer, that Crank didn’t suffer from, was the reason behind the story. Everyone wants Chelios’ heart because he is a bad ass that just can’t be killed. Why is he a bad ass? Doesn’t matter he just is and that’s alright by me. They were consistent with they story and that’s all that matters.

    In Gamer, it makes no sense why Castle is doing what he is doing or why he choose Kable. They could have ditch the whole police station peanut butter scene and replaced it with 5 minutes of background and the story would have had some consistency. it would have brought the viewer into the story and make us hate the bad guy.

    In older action films, we know who the bad guy is and why he is the bad guy. Here, we get nothing other than he’s a rich smarmy geek that want’s to control everything. Why is he that way? Was he picked on in high school? Did Kable still his girlfriend? Seriously, would that have been so hard to do?

    There is a difference, IMHO, between plot holes and just piss poor explanation or lack there of. A plot hole is something that is left out of the story that really should be there to allow the audience to understand what is going on. Gamer is full of both and it bugs me because 5 or 10 minutes of explanation would have gone a long way.

    Curious, what do you think Castle’s motivation was?

  28. “Gamer” looks like it just throws glorified violence up there and calls it action/sci-fi.
    I can see how some of the video game players think this is cool, but trust me as you get older seeing people get killed for lack of good writing gets very boring and
    demeaning overall.

  29. I saw it and can’t decide if I like it or hated it, but my brother and I did agree on one thing. The most memorable thing was Milo V. in those squeeky latex pants. He definitely had the best cameo, and one hell of a painful death.