Gamer (2009)


“Pistachio butter. They make that?”

The Scoop: 2009 R, directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, and starring Gerard Butler, Amber Valletta and Michael C. Hall

Tagline: In the near future, you don’t live to play… you’ll play to live.

Summary Capsule: Man locked inside a living video game yearns for FREEDOMMMMMMM!

Al’s rating: Ugh.

Al’s review: I hated Gamer. Hated.

Hated, hated, hated.

I hated every joyless, idiotic minute of it.

The whole concept is like something culled from the deep thoughts of a 2 A.M. stoner. ‘Cause, what if, like, all the people in video games were people, man? What if you were, like, actually controlling another person? (I’m breathlessly awaiting the screenwriter’s next film, where our whole universe actually just one atom in the fingernail of some other guy in a whole other, bigger universe.)

In Gamer, it’s the future and it sucks (because the future always sucks). A guy name Ken Castle (Michael C Hall) has created nanites that can operate people’s brains and the rich are paying loads of money to “play” with the controlled. Controllers act out their sickest fantasies in either a twisted version of Second Life called “Society,” or in a televised, no-holds-barred deathmatch called “Slayers.”

“Slayers” is mostly populated with death row inmates who will be given pardons if they survive thirty matches. No one ever has, but one inmate has come tantalizingly close: John “Kable” Tillman (Gerard Butler) is just three matches away from freedom. Of course, Kable isn’t your run-of-the-mill death-row murderer: he’s actually a noble, wrongly convicted soldier who just wants his wife and daughter back, but has a secret history with Castle, the evil mastermind. Kable is controlled by a seventeen-year-old gaming whiz and is being contacted by a secret resistance that—you know what? Screw it. I really don’t care. I’m not wasting any more time explaining this uninspired piece of garbage.

And it would have been so easy to make it interesting! A few jokes here and there or an occasional wink to the camera would have done wonders. Maybe a character who isn’t miserable, pissed-off, or out-of-his-mind crazy. It wouldn’t have made the story any more original, but at least it could avoid being dull.

Unfortunately, Kable, Castle and everyone else in this movie are thin, boring, lifeless characters in a crappy, flavorless retread that the filmmakers desperately want to pretend is edgy and different, but is actually just stupid and mean.

Now, I can deal with stupid and mean if it’s a part of some interesting  and necessary social commentary or helps me better understand a character. Every inch of Gamer, however, has been been done so many different times and in so many more interesting ways that all it did was make me angry that the film existed.

In fact, there’s a moment in Gamer when Kable’s wife—a good-hearted, caring woman with no flaws whatsoever who has been forced to become a hooker in “Society”—is being ‘booted up’ for a session. Her controller—a greasy, perverted, mouthbreathing fat man in his underwear—is selecting an outfit for her and lingers briefly on a replica of Daryl Hannah’s outfit from Blade Runner. Now, I happen to be in vast minority of people who find Blade Runner to be hopelessly overrated, but for Gamer to even invite the comparison is laughable. I know Blade Runner, I’ve seen Blade Runner. You, sir, are no Blade Runner.

I recognize that, at this point, what I’m writing isn’t so much a review as it is an unfocused, angry ramble, but you know what? I’m done. Unfocused rambling is really all it deserves and I know better ways to burn brain cells than thinking about Gamer. I hope this film drowns in its own bile.

Justin’s rating: I’m sorry, but your awesome movie is in another castle.

Justin’s review: As video games become more widespread, more accepted by mainstream culture, and more sophisticated, there’s a lot of speculation just how this interactive form of entertainment will evolve in the future.  That games will utilize more advanced technology and focus more on social interaction is about the only sure prediction one can make.

So for all the unlimited potential for future gaming, it’s just pathetically sad that Hollywood can’t envision – simply cannot – anything other than gladiator-style battles fusing the real world with the virtual one.  The Running Man, Rollerball, Death Race, Solarbabies… it’s just countless iterations on that old, tired Dangerous Game short story.  Yes, yes, it’s social satire so sharp that you could give it to a baby and not worry about the little tyke cutting himself.  It’s like being friends with a kid who had a pretty neat idea back in the fifth grade, but he’s never let it go since, and you just get uncomfortable every time he opens his mouth and spits out, “Hey guys, you know what would be cool?”

Gamer wants to be something more than the rest – more raw, more intense, more hardcore, more geeky.  It’s akin to condensing 10 Michael Bay movies down into one and hoping that it’d be 10 times better, not understanding that one Michael Bay movie was more than we wanted to handle in the first place.  Have fun trying to follow the hyperkinetic, ultraviolent action sequences where the camera tilts, cuts, wheels and deals more than the campy ’60s Batman show.  What you do see and absorb during the action is quickly numbing and underwhelming, even though limbs fly willy-nilly and vehicles are exploding left and right.

Oddly enough, the framing story surrounding all of this has the seeds of potential to, indeed, be more.  The conceit of Gamer is that a software guru has invented two of the world’s most popular online games: a social network called Society, and a player-versus-player shootout called Slayer.  The only difference between then and now is that players control real people (who have chips in their head) instead of virtual ones, a sort of technological slavery that is being endorsed by the population it amuses.

Gerald Butler, when he isn’t loudly proclaiming the country that one is in, finds himself on the receiving end of a Slayer match.  He’s being controlled by a 17-year-old and is forced to play through 30 deathmatches to win his freedom from Death Row.  Yeah, he’s on Death Row for something that’s made him all growly, and it’s only with the help of freedom fighters that he’s able to break out of his programming and go free agent.

I guess this is as good a time as any to go on a small rant about modern action heroes.  Sure, with the help of advanced CGI and tireless stunt doubles, their moves are fresher and phatter than ever, but that’s come at a cost of personality.  Sure, it’s not like Stallone and Schwartzenegger and Van Damme and Seagal were ever master thespians, but at least they tried to inject a glimmer of personality into their ‘roid rage personas – or, failing that, cracked morbid one-liners like there was no tomorrow.

Today?  It’s all about angry, determined, competent killers who lack both the ability to be anything other than a walking template and to ever be anything less than a flawless fighter.  It’s.  Not.  Interesting.  I’m sorry, but it’s not.

So are we still doing this Gamer review?  I guess we are.  It wasn’t quite the excellent manifesto on social satire using video games that the filmmakers undoubtedly hoped, but it certainly has a bit of pizzazz that keeps it from descending into Bad Movie territory.  Game over, man, game over!

These right here? These are not safe driving practices.


  • Always great to start with an action sequence that’s more confusing and spastic than ten Michael Bay films
  • People with the name “Bob” have their names repeated over and over
  • The opening montage of time-lapse shots and other scenes of the world where we see ads for Kable and/or graffiti of Ken Castle overlaid on buildings or walls are mostly taken from Ron Fricke’s wordless film Baraka, for example, the shots of the Giza Pyramids, India, homeless man sleeping under a bridge among others.

Groovy Quotes

Ken Castle: I hope one day to have the opportunity to breach your firewall, Miss Parker Smith.

Ken Castle: [seeing Hackman] Look at it. The new face of Slayers. Pure, crystalized horror. Two stories high and bathed in bloody red. He is what they want.

Simon: I just play games, man. Games.
Humanz Brother: That’s right. It is a game. You want to win it, don’t you?
Simon: Yeah, I intend to.
Humanz Brother: Well then you need to cut your strings, puppet master. Imagine a Slayer who don’t got to wait to be told what to do. No ping, ya dig?

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Johnny Mnemonic
  • 300
  • Tron


  1. Actually, I could see a ‘universe is just one atom in some guy’s fingernail’ movie being fairly entertaining, if done correctly. I mean, it’s not like similar concepts haven’t been explored successfully before.

  2. Agree with you on Blade Runner. While that film has style and mood oozing out of its pores, I found it to be decidedly lacking in substance.

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