What to make of short-attention-span artists satirizing a short-attention-span world? An unofficial update of 1987's The Running Man (which itself was a sci-fi update, by way of Stephen King, of the deathless literary thriller "The Most Dangerous Game"), Neveldine/Taylor's Gamer is nothing if not a wild ride, made with a certain technical proficiency. It's also ugly, under-thought, and distasteful, an '80s throwback that recaptures those low-rent action movies that seemed to be made by cokeheads (and probably were).
Writer-directors Neveldine/Taylor (Crank) deliver the provocative premise by way of paper-thin characters. The expository "news" profile at the film's outset introduces us to a futuristic dystopia all but owned by Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall)—billionaire CEO of Castle Pay-Per-View and creator of the games "Society" and "Slayers." "Slayers" allows death-row inmates to gamble that they can survive thirty sessions and win their freedom. John "Kable" Tillman (Gerard Butler) is the popular "i-con"—or living avatar—controlled by gaming superstar Simon Silverton (Logan Lerman). Underground protest activists Humanz (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Alison Lohman, Aaron Yoo, et al) want to spring Kable and his ilk, and take Castle down, while Kable prioritizes springing his wife (Amber Valletta) from being an avatar (and hapless sexual slave) in the "Society" game. The supporting cast bursts with familiar faces: Kyra Sedgwick as celebrity interviewer Gina Parker Smith, John Leguizamo as jittery Freek (his solo show, mispelled), Keith David (Pitch Black), John de Lancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes), Michael Weston (House), Terry Crews (Idiocracy), Zoë Bell (Death Proof), Sam Witwer (Smallville), Efren Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite)—the list goes on.
Neveldine/Taylor make every effort to assure Gamer won't be boring. But even at a trim ninety-five minutes, it quickly becomes exhausting through its admittedly impressive effects (the design of the internet parlor is awfully clever) and long stretches of mayhem with hyperactive editing: not only the "first person shooter" and seedily sexed-up Sims sequences, but also every dialogue scene is part and parcel of the filmmakers' overstimulated world. There's a kind of unity of vision here: though it depicts a relentlessly repulsive world, Gamer is certainly visually arresting, snazzy and grotty in turns. But there's simply too little thought put into the stock characters and the shallow satire. Gamer is what it's poking fun at: depraved, fetishistic macho imagery abounds and compounds as the movie goes along, muscles, boobs, blood, and viscera upping the exploitation factor instead of giving way to some solid plot development. By the time Hall lip syncs "I've Got You Under My Skin," you won't know what hit you or if you even care.
Gamer provides an audio-visual onslaught, and the Blu-ray hi-def mastering by Lionsgate is up to the task. The picture here vibrantly captures the wild colors and dichotomy of sharply detailed sheen and grainy grit that defines the difference between the plugged-in upper class and the locked-in slave class. Contrast is intentionally extreme, but detail and texture are never lacking. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is not only a definitive rendering of the source material, but a reference quality test of your home system, on the extreme end of the soundscape scale. There's not a lot of subtlety to this mix, but it's certainly impressive in its assaultive wraparound effects.
Playback options include the enhanced viewing experience offered by the iCon Mode, very similar to WB's "Maximum Movie Mode." The directors take charge of your viewing experience, offering video commentary as they pause or otherwise highlight footage at whim (this viewing experience adds thirty minutes to the run time, a sign of the mode's depth of coverage).
Cheat Codes is another viewing option, using an icon to access specialized crew commentary for selected scenes.
In keeping with the film's style, the audio commentary with writers/directors Neveldine/Taylor and actors Amber Valletta, Alison Lohman and Terry Crews is a bit chaotic and obnoxious, but there you go: fans of the film will get some insight into the directors' approach.
Inside the Game: Controlling Gamer (1:19:42, HD) is a rather astonishingly detailed, feature-length making-of documentary. Extensive set footage shares time with tons of talking-head interviewees: Neveldine/Taylor, producer Gary Lucchesi, producer Tom Rosenberg, executive producer David Rubin & producer Skip Williamson, Gerard Butler, Valletta, Crews, Michael C. Hall, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Logan Lerman, Kyra Sedgwick, Alison Lohman, director of photography Ekkehart Pollack, production designer Jerry Fleming, executive producer/VFX supervisor James McQuaide, stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott, first assistant director Jon Mallard, special makeup effects man Christien Tinsley, weapons master Guillaume DeLouche, editors Fernando Villena & Doobie White, and composers Geoff Zanelli & Robb Williamson.
"First Person Shooter: The Evolution of Red" (16:45, HD) details the use of the up-to-the-minute Red HD camera, celebrated here by Neveldine/Taylor, Ted Schilowitz of Red Digital Camera, McQuaide, and Pollack.
Also on the primary disc: the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:33, HD) and "Unseen Trailer (The Doobie-Ness Cut)" (2:43, HD).
Finally, Lionsgate packs the two-disc set with every bell and whistle at its disposal: D-Box enhancement; BD Touch, which uses an iPhone/iPod Touch app to deliver enhanced content; a "Metamenu"; bookmarking; and LG Live.
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Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
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