Gamer, From the Makers of Crank

Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have slowly started garnering actual critical consideration for their Crank movies; with Gamer, they make another good case for taking them seriously. In the near future, over-enthusiastic gamers play first-person shooters by controlling real death-row convicts (via implanted gibberish nanotechnology). One of them—champion Kable (Gerard Butler)—Knows Too Much, and must be eliminated before he wins 30 games and his freedom. That Kable doesn't particularly care about game mogul Ken Castle's (Michael C. Hall) grand conspiracy—and never has a conscience-stricken change of heart—is one of many small tweaks on the genre that make this a notable cut above bargain-basement action. Neveldine and Taylor's spazzy (but coherent) action scenes rely mostly on blood spurts instead of feats of badassery, but their dystopia is inventive and their visual schemes diverse: The fight scenes play like a buffering online video, with the transmission glitches warping our sense of time, while Castle's home looks like a live-action Speed Racer, with Hall munching snacks against bizarre nature imagery in disorienting tableaux. Their sense of the grotesque can overshadow their targets—close-ups of a 500-pound guy to indict lazy media consumers isn't exactly subtle, and more of a distraction—but they're as smart about the details as they are loyal to corporation-bashing. Oh, and there's a dance number.

 
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