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The time is tomorrow. And video games have changed. Instead of immersing players in a digital world, billionaire Ken Castle has developed a new nanotechnology that allows gamers to actually control real people. They sit at home in their wall-to-wall Internet domains and control living and breathing avatars who have volunteered for the job.
Castle's first success, Society, is a social interaction game—much like a real-world version of Second Life—where the controlling gamers can dress up their living puppets in sleazy outfits and send them forth for sex and debauchery.
But gamers wanted more meat. So Slayers was born. This first-person shooter pits death row inmates against one another in all-or-nothing blood battles. Volunteers are promised freedom if they can make it through 30 games. Of course, success depends in large part on how skilled the mind-controlling gamer is. And 17-year-old Simon is one of the best. He's maneuvered his living champion, ex-soldier Kable, through 27 battles so far.
Amazingly, Kable hasn't become a psychotic killer in the process. He's been bashing skulls and hacking opponents, but he eagerly looks forward to finding his way back to his wife and child after his 30th round.
Kable must not have played very many video games in his youth. Because if he had, he would have know it's never that easy.
The megalomaniacal Castle has no intention of allowing Kable to survive. How could he? It would be bad for business. So there's only one way out for Kable: convince Simon to give him control of his own actions.
Kable, whose real name is John Tillman, is no angel. He obliterates dozens of people in very bloody fashion. But we eventually find out that he was framed for the murder that sent him to jail. And it's plain that the one thing that has kept him going is his deep love and longing for his wife and child.
The idea of utterly controlling another human being takes you to spiritual places pretty quickly if you stop and think about it for longer than a nanosecond. But Gamer doesn't think about it at all.
Kable's wife, Angie, has suffered since Kable was incarcerated. Their daughter, Delia, was taken away by Family Services and Angie has been struggling to make enough to once again give the girl a home. Desperate, she gives herself over to nano-mind control as a Society avatar.
The world she subsequently enters is a place of open and wanton lasciviousness. And it's made all the more disturbing by the fact that the avatar humans who participate in its commonplace—public—sex acts are aware of their shameless, erotic encounters but wield no control over themselves.
All of the characters are presented in a very sexual manner and rampant erotic activity is on full display. Avatars dress in skimpy and provocative outfits that expose their breasts and backsides. A male character presses his naked rear up against a car window. Women remove or pull up their shirts and/or skirts on numerous occasions. The camera leers as straight, gay and lesbian couples kiss, lick, fondle and roughly squeeze one another in public.
On a couple occasions the camera follows Angie through her encounters—repeatedly flashing back to her enormously fat, sweating and apparently naked controlling gamer. We see him dress her in sleazy outfits and order her to shake her backside at him.
In one interaction she meets a smarmy, latex-clad man at a bar and is forced to accompany him back to his apartment while he licks her, gropes her breast and rubs himself against her. It's then implied by movements and positioning that she's about to be raped. (The act is stopped by Kable.) It's also implied that in more violent scenes her gamer masturbates while watching her.
Bleeding scrapes add to the sexual tension between two women.
Outside of Society, women wear tight-fitting outfits and cleavage-revealing tops. While online, talking to Simon, two young women expose their breasts to him in an attempt to bargain for control of Kable. Kable runs through a nightclub filled with partially naked partygoers. Huge glass "perpetual motion" balls contain naked women.
Resembling the rawest of run-and-gun M-rated shooters, Gamer is packed with battlefield firefights. There seems to be no other point to Slayers than wholesale slaughter, so the bloodletting comes off as all the more gratuitous and senseless—repeating over and over and over.
Heads explode, bodies are dismembered, bullets rip into torsos, cars and buildings erupt, gore flies, people are crushed by speeding vehicles and giant snow plow blades.
While under mind control, Kable is forced to put a gun to his friend's forehead and blow his brains out. The man's head snaps back and we see thick blood spatter on the floor behind his chair. In another scene, Kable is forced to not only slash his own leg with a large knife, but he must struggle to keep from cutting his daughter's throat. We see Kable plunge that same knife into a man's abdomen, then twist it. One man pounds another's face repeatedly with a rock.
Castle eventually unleashes a hugely muscled killer on the game's volunteers. And the results are not pretty. Among other atrocities, this psychopath rams a blade into a woman's back and wipes the gore on her partner's collar.
One volunteer tries to remove the nanobugs from his brain by hacking open the back of his neck with a razor blade.
Crude or Profane Language
Over 40 f-words and 20 s-words. God's name is abused a half-dozen times, mostly in combination with "d--n." Vulgar and obscene references are made to male and female genitalia. Milder profanity includes "b--ch," "h---" and "a--."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Kable quickly tosses back an entire bottle of vodka and stumbles out on the battlefield (before vomiting in a truck's gas tank). A crowd of observers, watching the televised Slayers game, drink beer and hard liquor. An on-air reporter smokes a cigarette while giving the news.
Other Negative Elements
As Plugged In Online's resident gamer, I know that there's a certain escapist appeal to walking in the digital shoes of a heroic character and overcoming obstacles through strategy, stealth and action. And as a movie reviewer, too, I understand the adrenaline rush that sometimes comes when bodysurfing through a fast-moving action flick—the kind that sucks you in with dramatic waves and sets you bouncing along on emotional breakers.
Trailers for Gamer promise that this film effectively blends those two forms of entertainment.
But the promise is a lie.
I'll start with the premise: It's twisted. There's something dreadfully perverse about a future where people volunteer to set aside free will and allow themselves to be controlled by hidden puppet masters. In fact, it's so obviously twisted that I fully expected the film to play out as a morality tale, tweaking the video game world by taking its current components to unfathomable extremes. Surely, I thought, the filmmakers would offer an enlightening statement about our society's penchant for flippant violence and casual sex.
It doesn't, and they don't.
Gamer doesn't even manage to get as much right as lousy genre-mates The Running Man or Death Race. We're not even told how this human avatar-filled "game" works. The crude set up is simply used to open the door for loathsome sexual degradation, leering perversion and scene after scene of viciously explosive battles that indiscriminately send blood, bone and internal organs flying at your face.
"It's like if American Idol and Girls Gone Wild and some kind of drug-induced combo all happened at once," actress Amber Valletta said in a Maple Pictures video interview. It's a "very, very dark place," actor Gerard Butler added.
Now that's not a lie.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Gerard Butler as Kable; Amber Valletta as Angie; Michael C. Hall as Ken Castle; Kyra Sedgwick as Gina Parker Smith; Logan Lerman as Simon; Terry Crews as Hackman
September 4, 2009
January 19, 2010