dir-scr Neveldine/Taylor
prd Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Skip Williamson, Richard S Wright
with Gerard Butler, Michael C Hall, Amber Valletta, Logan Lerman, Kyra Sedgwick, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Alison Lohman, Terry Crews, Milo Ventimiglia, John Leguizamo, Keith David, John de Lancie
release US 4.Sep.09, UK 16.Sep.09
09/US Lionsgate 1h35
Meet your maker: Butler and Hall

valletta sedgwick bridges
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Gamer Bursting with their trademark visual style, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank) attack the screen with this twist on the virtual reality genre. Unfortunately, the film is a cacophonous mess without a single interesting character.

In the nearish future, roleplay game-maker Ken Castle (Hall) has made his fortune with two games that let people live vicariously through others: the sex-and-party Society and the war-and-destruction Slayers. The twist is that the gamers are controlling actual people due to nano technology implanted in the performers' brains. In Slayers, they're all death row inmates firing real bullets, and the global megastar performer is Kable (Butler), controlled by rich geek Simon (Lerman). But Kable longs to escape and find his wife (Valletta), and a renegade hacker (Bridges) sets his escape in motion.

While this clever idea allows for all kinds of interesting subthemes, the filmmakers are clearly only interested in two things: naked women and grisly carnage. They put all of their considerable skills to bear in these two areas, indulging in hyperventilating action, exaggerated violence, gratuitously skimpy costumes and glimpses of bare breasts every few minutes. But none of this is remotely enjoyable because it assaults our senses without any coherent context. And the relentless misogyny and homophobia are simply vile.

Besides the vast plot holes, the film is just overwrought silliness. Sure, it looks great, with the lurid photography, gritty images and textured design, but the characters are all swaggering, overconfident idiots. So the solid cast is left to play mere cartoon characters, really. And none of them seems to be having much fun either, although Hall gives it a go by chomping shamelessly on the scenery like a Bond villain on acid.

Eventually, everything boils over into even bigger, nastier carnage, as Slayer invades Society and then society before converging in a truly surreal confrontation that's choreographed like a Bob Fosse musical number. And it has to be noted that Ventimiglia's appearance, in a skin-tight PVC catsuit, is the film's quirkiest sequence. Although when the script strains for a thinly developed reunited family sentimentality, there's nothing we can do but groan. Where's Jason Statham when we need him?

cert 18 themes, language, strong violence, sexuality 16.Sep.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall