(Lionsgate) Gerard Butler, Amber Valetta, Michael C. Hall, Logan Lerman, Alison Lohman, Kyra Sedgwick, Ludacris, John Leguizamo, Zoe Bell, Terry Crews, Ramsey Moore, Aaron Yoo, Jonathan Chase, Brighid Fleming. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Almost since the advent of Pong, certain parental groups have decried the violence in videogames. Once you’ve fragged enough aliens, monsters or opposing soldiers, what’s left to do?
In the near future, gaming has evolved to the next level. Instead of controlling pixels on a television or computer screen, technology developed by techno-genius Ken Castle (Hall) enables gamers to control actual human beings. At first, it’s fairly benign in the social networking game “Society,” in which paid actors act out the fantasy of their controllers, thanks to a nanochip embedded in the brains of the actors that allow the gamers to broadcast instructions directly into the brains of the actors, who then perform any action the gamers wish like a marionette on a string. Apparently what most gamers wish in this dystopian future is softcore porn and raves.
The next step in this process is Slayers, a game featuring death row convicts who battle it out in a gritty urban arena with automatic weapons and grenades. Should the convict survive 30 battles, they are given their release, inspiring a wealth of potential slayers.
The best slayer is Kable (Butler), who has come as close as anyone to achieving freedom. However, he knows a little bit too much about the nanotech developed by Castle, so the multi-billionaire has set Kable up to fall, using a very angry avatar named Hackman (Crews) who has no player, which allows Hackman to act independently without any lag time, a huge advantage over the other slayers who have a several second lag between gamer command and slayer action. Fortunately, Kable’s gamer Simon (Lerman) is very, very good at what he does.
Not everyone thinks this is a perfect world. A group of techno-terrorists who call themselves Humanz are led by Brother (Ludacris), who hack into the game feed, much to the annoyance of Castle and cause all sorts of havoc. A popular interviewer/journalist named Gina Parker Smith (Sedgwick) is also suspicious of what Castle is doing and wants to know more about the Humanz.
Kable doesn’t care about any of this. He’s more concerned about getting back to his wife Angie (Valletta) and daughter (Fleming). Angie is working as one of the actresses in the Society milieu, controlled by an astoundingly obese gamer named Gorge (Moore). Kable soon begins to understand that there is no winning the game, only escaping – and once he escapes, can he save his family from the slavery that Castle intends to unleash upon the world?
Neveldine and Taylor are best known for their movie Crank which was like a videogame on steroids, and was one of the most entertaining action movies of the past few years. They do have the action thing in the bag, as the Slayer action sequences are plenty cool. What happens in between is a little bit less copacetic. I can see where they’re going with this – a commentary on the desensitizing of society and the gaming culture in general. Still, it’s hard to believe that anyone would ever allow another human being complete control of their body, no matter how desperate they were.
Butler is becoming one of my favorite actors working, but this won’t be remembered as a role he nailed. Kable has pretty much no personality whatsoever and while you’re ostensibly rooting for him, the fact of the matter is that you don’t really have much reason to care for him. Hall is actually kind of entertaining as the nerdy but arrogant tech whiz who performs a lip-synch dance to the Sammy Davis Jr. chestnut “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with his lackeys (every good villain’s gotta have lackeys) doing a dance number along with him. That’s one of the better moments in the movie and shows the kind of flair, humor and imagination that the Neveldine/Taylor duo has at their best.
Unfortunately, this isn’t their best. A good videogame has a storyline that you want to follow through to its conclusion; at the very least, you can’t wait to experience what comes next. In this case, what comes next is predictable to the point where you’re checking your watch to see if its time to go yet. It isn’t the worst movie that will be released this year, but there aren’t many compelling reasons to go out of your way to see it.
REASONS TO GO: Some decent action sequences, and that’s about it.
REASONS TO STAY: Butler sleepwalks through his poorly written part. Neveldine/Taylor make movies for adrenaline junkies and this won’t sate even the most hardcore of fans.
FAMILY VALUES: Violence, a whole bunch of it and nudity, as well as sexual situations plus lots of bad language; not for the kiddies.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rather than using graphics that say “The End” at the conclusion of a film, directors Neveldine and Taylor use “GAME OVER INSERT COIN,” bringing to mind videogames from the ‘80s.
HOME OR THEATER: Skip it altogether, but if you must see it, you can wait for the home video release.
FINAL RATING: 4/10
TOMORROW: The Hunting Party