'Gamer' falls short on list of video game movies


Gerard Butler stars in "Gamer."

Movieweb.com
Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 12:36 p.m.

The movies have a love/hate relationship with video games. They hate the money video games make, and they would love to have some of that money. Hence, a never-ending series of movies based on games, none of which work for one very simple reason: The interactive medium of a game cannot be captured in a film.

Facts

Nate rates it:

"Gamer" – Watch It

"eXistenZ" – Rent It

"Tron" – Watch It

"WarGames" – Rent It

"The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" – Buy It

But there is another approach. While some movies imitate video games, there are some movies that are about video games.

This started way back in the day (in this instance 1982-1983) with a couple of movies fascinated by the potential of computer games ("Tron" and "WarGames"). And it continues today with the release of "Gamer," a movie that wants to simultaneously emulate and criticize hit games like "The Sims" and "Call of Duty."

In the not-too-distant future, video games have evolved to the point where gamers control the minds of actual human beings, who fight each other to the death on live television. (A brief aside: Why is it that in the future there are always televised bloodsports, when I can't even find any good wrestling on TV today?) Combatants are drafted from death row, their brains altered to be controlled by pasty teenagers with poor complexions.

Gerard Butler is the star of the show, a warrior who has survived more battles than any other. If he can win just three more, he gets his freedom. This has made him a worldwide icon, much to the chagrin of the game's creator (Michael C. Hall of "Dexter" fame) who is completely evil and wants all the acclaim for himself. We know he is evil because he is rich. And in the movies, rich people are always evil.

"Gamer" is a big, dumb, loud, energetic flick filled with gunfire, explosions and splattered body parts. Quite frankly, the material isn't worthy of either Butler (who makes a good action hero) or Hall (who makes a smashing villain), and it is only the charisma of these actors that makes the movie watchable at all. The highlight of the film is also its most ridiculous moment - a phalanx of mind-control zombies do a dance number while Hall does a Broadway style routine of Sammy Davis Jr. moves.

That this bit of inexplicable weirdness is the best moment of the film should really tell you something.

"EXISTENZ": This film directed by David Cronenberg some years ago handled the same theme much more creatively - and insidiously.

Jennifer Jason Lee plays a game designer, testing her latest and greatest creation, a virtual reality game where the player plugs directly into a pseudo-organic pod instead of a game system. Her focus group is attacked by a fanatic, and she goes on the run. But wait, what if the adventure is just part of the game? What if none of it is happening, or only part of it is?

"eXistenZ" is a twisty-turny thriller with a solid cast (including Willem Defoe, Ian Holm and Jude Law) and a sharp, complicated script. It's a much more intelligent approach to the subject of video games.

"TRON": This is a film that hasn't aged well. The special effects were stunning at the time but now seem quite campy. Jeff Bridges stars as a man who is sent inside a computer and forced to play in a series of games (motorcycle races, deadly jai alai, etc). The notion that there is a whole world hidden inside a computer is dated, silly and yet a nice bit of fun.

"WARGAMES": This one doesn't have any fancy virtual reality games, just the basics: tic-tac-toe, chess, checkers and global thermonuclear war. A very young Matthew Broderick stars as a computer whiz who innocently gets into a rivalry with the supercomputer that controls the U.S. nuclear arsenal. While the technology may seem archaic at this point, the basic premise of the movie is still interesting, and the execution of the script is proficient. The result is a film that is a far from classic but still surprisingly good after all these years.

"THE KING OF KONG: A Fistful of Quarters": Let's get serious for a minute: When it comes to movies about video games, this one is the king of them all. "The King of Kong" is a fascinating documentary chronicling the ups and downs of a man who plays on the professional "Donkey Kong" arcade circuit. The people in this film are more wonderfully strange than any writer could create, and "Kong" is a movie any true fan will love.

For some reason, January is rife with bloody, disgusting horror movies. Next week, I'll review a whole mess of them: "Halloween 2," "Pandorum," "The Final Destination" and "Saw VI."

Contact Nate Hensley at Nate@nateflix.net.

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Nate rates it:

>"Gamer" Watch It

>"eXistenZ" Rent It

>"Tron" Watch It

>"WarGames" Rent It

>"The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" Buy It

>Rating key

>Buy It - worth adding to your personal collection; Rent It - worth paying money to watch

>Watch It - worth watching for free

>Skip It - not worth watching at all.

comingsoon.net

Nate rates it:

>"Gamer" Watch It

>"eXistenZ" Rent It

>"Tron" Watch It

>"WarGames" Rent It

>"The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" Buy It

>Rating key

>Buy It - worth adding to your personal collection; Rent It - worth paying money to watch

>Watch It - worth watching for free

>Skip It - not worth watching at all.

New DVD releases:

"Whiteout"

Kate Beckinsale is investigating a murder at the South Pole. Her search leads her into older, deeper mysteries and thicker and thicker parkas.

"The Invention of Lying"

Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner lead a solid cast in this comedy about a bizarre world where everyone always tells the truth - and the man who invents dishonesty.

"Smokin' Aces 2: <0x000A>Assassins' Ball"

This prequel brings back many of the same colorful characters from the first film in another story of assassins competing against assassins for a valuable target.

"Pandorum"

Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid star in this tale of horror in deep space. A man wakes from hyper-sleep to find his ship overrun with hideous creatures.

"Weeds: Season Five"

Mary-Louise Parker returns as America's pot-dealing sweetheart, who is now Mexico's pot dealing sweetheart as the popular series makes a few drastic changes.

"The Keeper"

Stalwart action hero Steven Seagal brings his version of the hit "Taken" to DVD, playing a bodygaurd who goes on the offensive after his teenaged charge is kidnapped.

comingsoon.net

sc21gamer.jpg

Gerard Butler stars in "Gamer."

Gerard Butler stars in "Gamer."

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