Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Video review: "Gamer"

"Gamer," the latest attempt to meld video games with movies, starts out with a cool, compelling premise. And then it devolves into a bunch of hyper-fast action scenes, maudlin emotions and exploitative imperatives.

The filmmakers, the same team behind the "Crank" movies, seem to have their own peculiar formula. It's like a marriage of 1970s exploitation movies and modern, ultra-hip music video style.

The set-up is that the world is slowly being taken over by video games -- literally. Gerard Butler stars as Kable, the star of a combat game that billions of people watch on pay-per-view. The only twist is that he's a real person, playing against other live would-be soldiers. They're being controlled by players, who can determine whether they live or die.

The heavy is Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), the gaming wizard who devised the system, and played by Hall as a Ted Turner spoof, only younger and crazier. He wants to use his nefarious code to turn the brains of everyone on the planet into easily-manipulated hardware.

The computer-animation-assisted action scenes have a nice kinetic feel. But whenever these video-game avatars try to emote like real humans, I wanted to hit the Off switch.

Extras cover a pretty wide range of material, although the ratio of substance to hype is pretty low.

The DVD has a 16-minute featurette that's essentially a commercial for Red, a new type of digital camera. Co-writers/directors Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine team up with supporting stars Amber Valletta, Alison Lohman and Terry Crews for a rambling commentary track of dubious value.

There's also a making-of documentary that's nearly as long as the movie itself, though not much more entertaining.

In addition to these features, the Blu-ray version also comes with Cheat Codes, additional scene-specific audio and video commentary, and I-Con Mode, an "interactive time-shifting multi-dimensional exploration" of "Gamer."

It's notable that star Butler is almost totally absent from these extras -- although he does moon the camera at the end of the making-of feature. I'd say that's about how much regard this movie has for its audience.

Movie: 2 stars
Extras: 2 stars

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