As bad science fiction movies go, Gamer (2009) is pretty bloody awful. This one posits a future wherein universal mind control technology turns human beings into avatars for cruel, live action game environments, which are then sold back to the public as pay-per-view reality entertainment. In “Society,” down-on-their-luck people rent out their bodies to vicarious shut-ins in a Sims-like party neighborhood, while “Slayers” enables people to remotely control death row convicts through ultraviolent urban warfare scenarios.
Gerard Butler, perfectly cast as a first-person shooter avatar, stars as Kable, the proverbial “framed for a crime he didn’t commit” hero. He hopes to earn a pardon by surviving his thirtieth Slayers battle (a statistical improbability) and reunite with his wife Angie (Amber Valletta). Unbeknownst to Kable, the mastermind behind mind-control gaming, Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall, slumming), has no intention of letting Kable free. Angie, meanwhile, is paying the bills by renting her body in Society to an enormous, waffle-eating slob (who owns no shirts). So essentially, Kable must escape from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare to rescue his wife from Second Life.
This movie is, basically, crap. It takes a crude “if this goes on” cautionary premise about repulsive internet behavior, and undercuts any potential message by crassly celebrating that very behavior, in all its sleazy, ultraviolent glory. The plot is full of logic holes. The mind-control gaming craze is unconvincingly presented, both too boring to be popular and too unethical to be legal. Butler’s square-jawed hero and Valletta’s damsel-in-distress are empty automatons, and Hall’s drawly megavillain is unconvincingly hammy. Indeed, with the exception of John Leguizamo in a small role as a twitched fellow inmate of Kable’s, none of the acting connects. Worst of all, perhaps, is the tone of the film; it has two choices, taking itself seriously or embracing its inherent silliness, but it never quite makes the decision. The result is therefore both unfunny comedy and incompetent drama.
Final word on Gamer: don’t play it.