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Saeed Adyani/LionsGate

Body snatchers

Movies | Grotesque Gamer does poorly what others have done well

Issue: "Profiles in effective compassion," Sept. 26, 2009

There's a particular fascination in recent sci-fi with the desire to inhabit another person's body. The new action movie Gamer makes the case against exploring this issue more, lest it lead to further treatises on the subject by the movie's directors. Gamer is a singularly bad movie-poorly conceived, nauseatingly shot, barely acted at all. Morally, it's a sleazy, potty-mouthed, and violent sewer of lewdness and brutality-rated R. It's a mystery what it takes to get a movie rated NC-17 these days.

But it briefly touches on a discussion laid out infinitely better in Joss Whedon's slightly creepy TV series Dollhouse: What would happen to our world if we were allowed to direct someone else's every movement? Gamer makes the case that all human relationships would collapse into a cesspool of videogame violence and porny sex, but the fact that it does so merely points up its writer/directors' lack of imagination.

While moviemakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are content to choreograph endless splashes of blood and grotesque liaisons, Whedon (and others, like Orson Scott Card in his story Fat Farm) wants us to wonder about further implications. If we could control the contents of our heads, we could live forever in multiple bodies. We could buy a best friend made-to-order. We could hide.

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Neveldine and Taylor aren't interested in any of that, though. They have a wrongly accused man (Gerard Butler) fighting for his life on a television show to earn a pardon and get his wife (Amber Valletta) and daughter back-word for word the plot of last year's noisy depressant Death Race (itself a remake). Instead of a slumming Joan Allen as the villain, there's a slumming Michael C. Hall, who renders the movie grudgingly watchable for the few minutes he's on screen as the villain who's made the body-takeover technology possible.

But Hall's brief moments of inspiration mostly serve to illustrate how dull and pointless the rest of the movie is. If I could have been in another body during the film, believe me, I would have.

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