By John Ackermann.

The term “gamer” –for those who don’t know – means one who plays video games. The film “Gamer” takes the first-person shooter subculture of the current console era and imagines a future world where popular titles like “Halo” take on an ironic nightmarish reality.

The main character of the piece is Kable (Gerard Butler), a man wrongfully convicted of murder, who like many American inmates in this imagined future, is part of a game called “Slayers” where he must shoot and fight his way through an urban jungle inhabited by other criminals just for the privilege of being allowed to do it again another day. If he lives long enough, he’s set free and can pursue his real goal: to be reunited with his family. The catch is he’s controlled by a teenager “playing” him, much like you would play a character in a video game. Add to that the fact the “games” are televised reality-style like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” and you have the familiar premise of 1987′s ”The Running Man” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In that film, the objective was:  run for your life, and if you’re not caught, you stay free.

Much like Arnie’s character, Kable makes it clear he wants out. The plot very plainly provides a nemesis in the form of Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), the genius behind the “Slayers” concept as well as a porn simulator called “Society.” It soon becomes clear the games are merely a launching pad for Castle’s bid for world domination (I’ll save the wonky science used to explain how that’s supposed to happen for the movie). Kable gets some help from a group of hackers whose ringleader is played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, but for the most part he’s on his own.

True to the b-grade action flick that it is, “Gamer” is high on thrills and rather short on character and decent story development. It’s brought to you by the same bunch behind the Jason Statham “Crank” films, and like those, the end result is definitely more sizzle than steak. I do have to give some props for one scene where Michael C. Hall’s character does a bit of a soft shoe and lipsynch routine to the accompaniment of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra. It’s definitely an unexpected splash of colour in a film which is ultimately nasty, brutish, and short.  Butler and Michael C. Hall do what they can with the material, but really, a movie like this is far beneath their respective acting talents.  Ironically, my advice to you is to wait for the inevitable video game version of this movie.  It can’t be any worse than the film.

Starring Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges.

94 minutes

Rated 18A for explicit violence

2 stars out of 5