Film Friday: ‘Gamer’ & ‘Extract’

by W. Andrew Powell

Gerard Butler and Logan Lerman in Gamer

Gerard Butler and Logan Lerman in Gamer

Opening this Friday in theatres, Gerard Butler stars in the high octane action film, Gamer; Mike Judge‘s Extract stars Jason Bateman as a very unlucky guy trying to sell his extract business as the walls start crumbling around his head; and in All About Steve, Sandra Bullock co-stars alongside Bradley Cooper in the story of a love-lorn woman hunting down the man of her dreams.

Taking the first-person shooter concept to new heights, Gamer is set in a futuristic America where mind-control technology has made it possible for players to fight battles as other people, with real weapons. Set on a massive scale, with multi-player games, the system is populated by prisoners who have no choice but to play along, as an audience around the world watches.

Greatest among the “slayers” is the cult hero known as Kable (Gerard Butler), who is controlled by Simon (Logan Lerman), a young guy who is considered a super star among gamers. Each week Simon gets all the glory as he pushes Kable to win time and again.

For Kable, the entire “game” is a torment, of course, but on top of playing for his life, he is also playing for his family, who have been taken from him. Fighting to free himself so he can prove who he really is once more, Kable also plans to take down the man behind the vicious game.

Starring Michael C. Hall as the freakishly twisted billionaire Ken Castle, the creator of the game, the film is a high-octane actioner from directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the guys who also brought the two Crank movies to screen.

Running with that same style, Gamer is clearly the product of Neveldine and Taylor’s twisted imaginations, filled to overflowing with nudity, blood, sweat, and yes, even tears. It’s also brimming with some of the worst dialogue of the year, making the audience I saw it with giggle almost constantly near the end of the film. And I’m not even complaining about the song and dance routine that Hall puts on to the tune of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” which was honestly kind of awesome.

The problem is that with an actor like Butler in the lead, and most of the cast putting on their most serious faces, the antics of the film get lost. Amid the blood and gore, which doesn’t feel quite as cartoonish as it did in Crank, the lame dialogue just seems, well, lame. That was enough to take me out of the action and wonder why anyone let such a sloppy film escape into theatres.

Writer and director Mike Judge is not a prolific filmmaker, but when he gets it right, he sure leaves his mark. Most people will remember Judge’s biggest film, the cult classic Office Space, but it was seven years before he made another film, and now it’s been another three more since that.

In his latest, Jason Bateman stars as Joel, the owner of an extract manufacturing plant who can’t seem to get a break. As he considers selling the business, he has to deal with a work-place accident, a scamming employee, and on top of that, trouble at home after his drug-addled friend recommends a way to test if his wife is being faithful.

Co-starring Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, and J.K. Simmons, the film is bound to be a lot of fun, and critics are giving Judge and the film a healthy amount of praise.

Edward Douglas of wrote that, “Mike Judge proves once again that few can top him when it comes to making cathartic social commentary about the working class.”

A few critics are less than impressed however, including Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter, who suggested the film is pretty see-through.

“Not for a single moment does anyone in this film make a good decision,” Honeycutt wrote. “Consequently, you quickly catch on and easily anticipate the bad decisions before they happen.”

All About Steve
Lastly this week, Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper star in the romantic comedy All About Steve.

Bullock plays crossword puzzle writer Mary, an over-the-top eccentric who is convinced that Steve, played by Cooper, is the man of her dreams after they have one single blind date.

Following him across the country as he covers breaking news stories with reporter Hartman Hughes, played by Thomas Haden Church, Mary finds every possibility to get in Steve’s way. Meanwhile, Hartman encourages her, finding the entire situation exceedingly funny.

Steve and Hartman feel guilty though as a massive news story breaks, and Mary becomes embroiled in it. On top of that, they realize she may not be the person they thought she was.

While I’m all for another Bullock-fronted romantic comedy, and while I am also a big fan of Cooper and Church, the film just does not look very good. I’m not even going to get into the likelihood, in this day and age, of a cameraman traveling the country covering news, when there are likely lots of local crews, but on top of that, does Bullock really look like a desperate dater?

She’s a good enough actress to pull it off, and I like that the premise turns the show around to have Bullock chasing Cooper, rather than the usual plot where the guy is chasing the girl, but the film has very little in the way of positives aside from the cast. Most notably on the down side of things, it was written by Kim Barker, who also helped pen the awful film License to Wed, and it was directed by Phil Traill, who doesn’t have much of a resume at all.

Upcoming releases…

September 9
9 – Directed by newcomer Shane Acker, and produced by Timur Bekmambetov and Tim Burton, 9 is an animated movie set in a post-apocalyptic time when humanity has been wiped out and all that remains are nine robotic puppets, and a world full of danger. Struggling to find answers, the group try to uncover the secrets of a small device that seems to be the key to everything.

September 11
Whiteout – Kate Beckinsale stars in this thriller as the only U.S. Marshal in the frigid wastes of Antarctica, trying to uncover a mystery that surrounds the continent’s first murder. As the darkness of winter approaches, she has only three days to solve the crime, or end up stuck in the remote area with the killer.

Sorority Row – As a prank goes terribly wrong, five sorority girls cover up the truth of their friends murder, only to find themselves hunted by an unknown figure during graduation.

Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself – Taraji P. Henson stars as April, a night-club singing party animal who has to take on two of her young nephews and a neice who have been causing trouble for the family. Now she has to decide whether to grow up and follow her heart, or continue being the part girl.

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