‘Gamer’ movie review: Gerard Butler in Crank directors’ video game nightmare

Imagine the Troma-inspired Crank movies, drained of all the fun and taken dead seriously. That’s where Crank makers Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor’s inexplicable Gamer lies. It’s a loud, incoherent, and ultimately tortuous sit that compares to Transformers 2, though it’s an hour shorter; it’s a miserable experience, but the directors are trying here. I have to give them that much.

The two underlying ideas are solid. First we have a vision of the not-too-distant future: Bill Gates-like software billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) has created a mixture of reality and online worlds: in a ‘game’ called Society, online participants control real-life actors/avatars through implants in their brains. 

Morbidly obese Gorge (Ramsey Moore) controls pretty Angie (Amber Valletta) in this manner, dressing her up in skimpy outfits, taking her to raves, hooking her up with characters called Rick Rape. Angie took this gig because she needs the money, trying to regain custody of her young daughter.

Next there’s the old Running Man/Death Race plot. Another of Castle’s creations is the game Slayers, in which players control death row inmates who battle each other in a war-like video game simulation. 

If they win 30 rounds, they’re freed from prison; good for Angie’s husband Kable (Gerard Butler) who is controlled in the game by young Simon (Logan Lerman) and has survived 28 rounds so far. This is nothing new – and the worldwide crowds cheering on the action feel particularly repetitive – but it’s usually entertaining.

Not in Gamer, though, where you’ll have to battle through wave after wave of incoherence just to figure out what’s happening on the screen. In an actual video game, coherence is key: you need to be fully aware of your surroundings in order to play. 

When games in a three-dimensional setting first came about, developers quickly learned that camera placement and editing were stumbling blocks that needed to be handled deftly so that gamers could actually play the game.

This is something many of today’s filmmakers tend to ignore – audiences, they think, don’t need to understand what’s going on, as long as they can feel it – and Neveldine & Taylor are the epitome of this mindset. In the Crank movies, the rat-a-tat action came in short bursts; in Gamer, nearly half of the film seems to take place in the Slayers game, and you will have no idea what is going on during these scenes: who is shooting who, who lives and who dies, what or where the goal is. 

It’s a deafening bore sitting there in the cinema amidst explosions on the screen and gunfire through the speakers, and the least-involving moviegoing experience imaginable.

If that isn’t enough to sink the movie (and it is, but this thing can dive to lower depths), the tone is all sorts of wrong, sour and sullen when it should be campy fun. Why this mess takes itself more seriously than most actual war movies, I do not know. At least Paul W.S. Anderson’s Death Race film got it half-right.

You might recognize Hall from his television roles on Six Feet Under or Dexter; he’s the one bright spot in the movie, and features in its one inspired scene, a riff on Sammy Davis Jr.’s I Got You Under My Skin. The rest of the cast is profoundly dull, including Butler in the lead, who here lacks the charisma of even a B-level action hero. Jason Statham is missed.

The Crank movies have more than their share of detractors, but I’m an admitted fan. Still, I can’t imagine anyone getting much out of Gamer. Here’s hoping for better things next time around.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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