In the way that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's Crank : High Voltage came out at the near end of April to prematurely nab the crown of kinetic action cinema from those dull Blockbuster Dogs of May (X-Men Origins : Wolverine, Star Trek, T4), so now too does their sci-fi film, Gamer, act as a sort of post-August sponge, soaking up all of the slobber left behind from the perplexing praise that was heaped upon its dreadful genre cousin District 9. The totality of Gamer doesn't hang out on the same plain of artistic anarchy where Crank : High Voltage lives (but, really, what does?), yet it still provides a serviceable mainstream platform for these two modern auteurs to tinker with their deliciously absurdist set pieces, compositions, and popping juxtapositions.
The degraded dystopian territory that Gamer's thin plot resides in isn't a novel one. In a "near future", technological advancement and convenience has locked much of functioning society indoors, minimizing human interaction and maximizing hedonistic impromptus. Global pop-culture's # 1 TV program is a survival realty show called Slayers, where death row inmates vie for second-chances at freedom in a kill-or-be-killed battlefield. The twist is that each inmate is handled by a behind-the-scenes real life gamer, playing the ultimate in first person shooter video games. Kable (Gerard Butler), the sub-genre's requisite good "bad guy" who's only in the predicament he's in because of BIG [fill in the blank], is three victories from release... and exposing the evil intentions of the man behind the curtain.
Even though Gamer's plot is shaky, its individual pieces provide some terrific stand-alone signatures. Michael C. Hall as the Stalin-meets-Bill Gates wunderkind tycoon Ken Castle, and Kyra Sedgwick as a TV talk show opportunist with just a smidgen of conscience, both clearly enjoy living within the costumed personas they've been handed. Hall, especially, chews up the scenery at any given chance, but it's for benefit of the film, filling in the space where broadness of story is lacking. Also fun is the freedom fighting group, Humanz, an activist bunch that envisions a future where gaming is rolled back to the days of joystick arcade standies and air hockey. Of course, their greater goal is to unplug society from Castle's wicked web, but the haunt that Neveldine & Taylor hole them up in is a hoot.
But just as with Crank and Crank : High Voltage, the unique pleasure of Neveldine & Taylor's films pour from their unchecked sense of vision. The idea (and pulling off of said idea!) to stage the final squaring-off between Kable and Castle on a seemingly free floating basketball court is post-modern cinematic nirvana. Also nutso bonkers - but in the most complementary meaning of those terms - is a fight sequence prior, where Castle's thugs line up in finger-snapping formation to attack Kable under the orders of Castle's acapella performance of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin". Shot in darkness and shadow, the sequence initially eludes you by catching you off guard and off your wits. However, the image of Kable descending a staircase to enter a den of dancing henchmen is what continues to ride with me the most, and it's what makes me want to revisit Gamer sooner than later.
As Neveldine & Taylor started to exhibit in Crank : High Voltage, there is a Godard-ian color scheme injected into their most pop-tastic compositions. The splashy diagrams of Pierrot Le Fou channeled through the lensing and lighting of a slick Luc Besson action film would be my best way of describing Gamer's most luminous moments. Crank : High Voltage was grimier and, truthfully, played off of Godard's use of pop-imagery more than his late 60s richness of color, but the "Society" scenes in Gamer offers up Neveldine & Taylor a brand new landscape to open their Crayola palette of colors in. Bubblegum hyper-mimickry and raw exploitation will surely be charges leveled against the brightest moments of this film, but to do so would be to misjudge the hard-candy humor and almost surreal quality that's quickly becoming a trademark of the Neveldine/Taylor brand. Unfortunately, delayed respect can sometimes be a consequence of inventiveness.