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Gamer hits theaters next week, and if you're intensely ambivalent about it, I don't blame you. Is it a goofy parody of video game stereotypes, or a lowest-common-denominator exploitation of society's fear of them? Is it a balls-to-the-wall action flick, or a weird "message" movie? I can't claim to know the answers, but I do know this -- given everything we know about the movie so far, it will either be cinematic gold or complete trash. Herewith, an exhaustive list of pros and cons to argue the case.
Pro: It's directed by the guys who did Crank.
Though neither Crank nor its sequel will be winning Academy Awards anytime soon, both flicks expressed a seemingly legitimate adoration for the ludicrousness of video games and video game culture. Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are, if nothing else, skilled in the art of creating silly, fast-paced action flicks that refuse to take themselves seriously and thus defy easy categorization.
Con: It could halfheartedly dabble in a lot of pseudo-philosophy.
In the world of Gamer, death row inmates are given a chance at freedom through a game called "Slayers." Human players -- teenagers, typically -- control the actions of competing death row inmates in an effort to become the last man standing. Given the sheer number of times characters talk about "power" or "control" in the trailer, one can't help but worry that Neveldine and Taylor are overreaching in some hare-brained attempt to create a 2009 version of Blade Runner.
Pro: Then again, it might not.
Again, we're talking about Neveldine and Taylor, here. The guys behind Crank 2 suddenly switching gears to make a flick about the nature of control and the philosophy of virtual worlds would be like Michael Bay directing a remake of Remains of the Day. For goodness' sakes, Gamer has a character named "Rick Rape" in it. Rick Rape. I don't think we'll have to worry about the movie getting too heady.
Con: Michael C. Hall sounds like Colonel Sanders
Not to be a nitpicker, but really: How did Dexter suddenly turn into an extra from Hee-Haw under Neveldine and Taylor's direction? Did they think it would sound scarier than his regular voice (which can actually be pretty intimidating)? Or is this their attempt to take the Corrupt Texan Oil Baron stereotype and update him for the 21st century? Either way, I have a hard time not wincing when Hall smarmily tells a confused Gerard Butler, "you're mahn, boay."
Pro: It's not based on a real video game.
As Tron and WarGames have taught us, video game movies tend to be much better when they aren't based on specific video games. Without the obligation to be faithful to any story material or tell a story fans are already familiar with, Gamer has the ability to be whatever the heck it wants to be. For us gamers, that means it doesn't start out in the hole when it inevitably veers from the source material.
Con: It basically looks like a ripoff of The Running Man.
Then again, a death-based reality game show wrun by a corrupt-but-charismatic jerk and overthrown by a small resistance led by a hunky foreign dude? Exchange Gerard Butler for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael C. Hall for Richard Dawson, and we're looking at a remake of The Running Man. Granted, the entire "the world is addicted to a deadly televised sporting event" thing is practically a genre unto itself -- thanks to grindhouse flicks like Death Race 2000 and Rollerball -- but something about the focus on person-to-person combat and the possibility for the game's "winner" to achieve freedom makes Gamer feel closer to Ahnold's flick than the directors might have intended.
Pro: It basically looks like a ripoff of The Running Man.
Why is that a bad thing? The Running Man is a classic 1980's big-budget action flick. Full of goofy catchphrases ("What a hothead!") and imaginative action scenes, it's the exact sort of popcorn movie so single-minded in its efforts to entertain that it's damn near impossible not to love. Even if Gamer ends up just being another Running Man, heck -- it's already blown the rest of the video game competition away.
Verdict: See the movie, and you tell me, smart-ass.