Directorial double act Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor seem to have an alarming amount of artistic control over their films. Their body of work to date (Crank, Pathology, Crank: High Voltage) contains some of the most brutally violent and sexually explicit scenes in contemporary cinema. They create chaotic worlds full of visual and aural excess, and up to a point I am a firm supporter of their cause. 2006’s Crank, for example, has the violent sensibilities of an 80s action picture combined with a frenetic and unique style of editing and shooting that sets it apart from the gritty, realistic action movies made since The Bourne Identity. They also created in Chev Chelios (played by Jason Statham) a pseudo-superhero who is truly invincible and completely devoid of Spidermanesque angst. Their latest film is Gamer, another completely insane action picture that gorges you on worrying images. But is there any enjoyment to be found in this mess of excess?
Gerard Butler beefs his way into the lead role, playing a man convicted of a crime he did not willingly commit, battling his way through gladiatorial death matches to win his freedom. He is, for some reason, extremely popular in the outside world, and as he nears the 30th victory that will result in a pardon, the evil owner of the corporation that controls the game conspires to kill him. This plot plays out predictably enough (on the page it reads like the concept for Schwarzenegger’s Running Man). What sets this apart is that Butler and his fellow combatants are all controlled by human players over the internet. The level of control which the gamers have is never really made clear. And the control method appears to involve a combination of the Wii’s waggly motion controls and Minority Report’s tactile finger flicking. Humans can also take control of other humans as avatars in the less violent but more sexual social networking simulator, also created by the evil corporation’s evil leader. There might be messages about redemption and free will in Gamer, but to be honest these are obscured by the orgy of violence and, well, the violence of orgies.
Neveldine and Taylor have tried to create something far more complex than their previous films, and they have ultimately failed. Crank had a simple premise and didn’t require flashbacks or exposition to be entertaining. Gamer relies on them heavily. Crank had Jason Statham revelling in the idiocy of his role. Gamer has Gerard Butler taking it all a bit too seriously. Crank had Statham pounding energy drinks and snorting cocaine from a toilet floor. Gamer lets Butler get drunk. Once. You get the point. While Gamer isn’t horribly bad, it is just too bland and confused to recommend. I have my fingers crossed that Crank 3D will get made soon.