It’s an absolute shame that Neveldine and Taylor appear to have separated. I think they were about two films away from a future reappraisal. They may be the only filmmakers (with the exception of Michael Mann) pushing the use of digital photography to new and interesting extremes. Gamer follows the visual tradition of both underrated Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Crank: High Voltage (their masterpiece) in its visceral aestheticism and bombast.
Neveldine/Taylor’s use of light, space, and movement comes together with some frenetic (but, pointedly, never incomprehensible) editing to create a visual language that’s smarter than meets the eye. They’re playing with the very concept of the action scene – what our eyes follow, replays, POV, energy – and matching the form and content perfectly. Gamer is often an ugly film, but it’s always purposeful. So much visual information is on screen at any one time that it, at times, becomes distracting, but Neveldine/Taylor are using their ADD-assisted images to reach past the part of the brain that can intellectualize and organize. They want the viewer to react with their inner animal, lose themselves in the moment as one’s brains move faster than one’s thoughts. Exaggerated lighting, extreme low angles, GIF-like repetition, swirling cameras – it’s all a calculated push of TOO MUCH. After it’s all over, you can go back and see how they’re doing what they’re doing, but in the moment, there is only the moment. And even when it doesn’t quite work visually (those distracting scenes), one can’t deny the extent of Gamer’s ambition.
Despite the visuals on display, Gamer is, unfortunately, held back from secret-masterpiece-status by its writing. It’s nowhere near bad – I would argue that, for the most part, Neveldine/Taylor’s writing goes so bold, so outrageously stupid, and so ridiculous that it turns into biting satire of the genre it inhabits (whether of not this is purposeful is up for debate). Even when the thesis is simplistic and/or sophomoric, as it is here, the writing is still generally entertaining and secretly intelligent enough to make the destination feel worth it. However, Gamer’s second half often sacrifices narrative momentum for by a some sequences that are thematically rich but cinematically boring (ie Kable rescuing his mind-controlled wife). I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there’s almost too much control exerted over the narrative for much of the latter half to really pop. It’s saved by the rightly hailed “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” scene (and what follows), which is truly sublime. But a fair amount of the previous 25 minutes drag. Honestly, Neveldine/Taylor could have just let themselves get distracted by some visually extravagant scatological humor or something, as long as it kept the pace up.
Ultimately, however, Gamer is an extremely underrated film. Its politics may be obvious and its sensibilities may be juvenile, but it’s still an ambitious, visually arresting action film.
Let’s hope the duo get back together and flip their collective finger to the world, at least a couple more times. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching this again.