"Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused" - Sweet Dreams
One wonders if social networking coupled with MMORPG similar to the likes of 3D avatar-based Second Life, would take off on an extremely large scale, with the hardware to support it, coupled with some X-factors to actually induce active participation. We know how fractured such sites and high-tech designs can be, though it didn't work against Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, famous for their Crank movies, to think up of a cautionary tale about the obsession with the virtual over what is real.
Their chief villain Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) is a Bill Gates type who made his fortune by designing two such virtual worlds with a little twist. Just like Sweet Dreams (the Eurythmics classic covered by Marilyn Manson here), his "Society" based MMORPG comes with real persons being that empty vessel for you to partake in various pleasures. In this reality, people pay to either be controlled - no need to think and giving up free choice, or to be the controller - presiding over the life of somebody (younger/hotter/etc) to achieve some objectives that one can only dream about. In the confines of the virtual outline, Think of it as The Sims, only that it comes complete with a living, breathing human ready to be controlled, though I do not know if everyone in the right mind would choose to be the puppet rather than the master.
Then Neveldine and Taylor treaded on the more controversial aspects of their creation, that of "Slayers", a separate MMORPG which basically plays to our basal morbidity for gladiatorial fights. There's nothing new with this concept of course, in having death row inmates being promised freedom back into society so long as they survive long enough. It's similar to films like The Condemned and Death Race, where the wronged (played by Gerard Butler) have to find a way out of this crazy inhumane game and clear his name / rescue his family / save the day / walk the dog and preach about the dangers of technologists seducing the world with a programmable lifestyle through sexy nano-technology, while harbouring world domination ambitions via mind control and slavery.
However, as the trailer would have suggested, and how the film played out its first act, it's quite a complete mess with its action sequences, with cuts so fast and furious that you wonder just exactly what's going on. Also, there's nothing not unseen from the trailer, as everything goes into this incredibly huge mess, and all the while never really permeate a feeling that Kable (Butler) the #1 killer controlled by teenage computer game whiz kid Simon (Logan Lerman) would actually be in danger. There's nothing fancy about the action here, which is a bit of a disappointment, presented in very strained colours, shaky-cam and you wonder what's being smoked during post-production.
And the disappointment continues as the film shifts gear in its second half, with a backstory that is muddled and poorly presented, coupled with attempts to expand the characterization of its supporting cast, but having everything fall flat on its face. Which is somewhat of a letdown since it has recognizable faces, such as Amber Valletta as Kable's wife who works as a Society avatar controlled by a fat slob (yeah, that's the stereotypical guy who spends too much time in front of a console), Kyra Sedgwick in a completely useless role of a talkshow host, Alison Lohman, Aaron Yoo and Ludacris being hackers of a resistance group up against Michael C. Hall's villain, John Leguizamo who's here just to talk in a strange, cryptic whisper, and the list of wasted characters go on.
I felt that Michael C Hall had plenty going right for him as the twisted billionaire with a diabolical plan, somewhat psychotic and unpredictable until he became one of those weak villains who enjoys lapsing into self-important monologues with a penchant for song. Gerard Butler on the other hand, while he's not into romantic films, is perfect for one-man army type shows such as 300 and RocknRolla, such that he could jolly well be given an action figure for his foray into physically demanding roles. Logan Lerman would probably feel a little short-changed as well, being the human master of Kable with the expectation of being more than just a whiz-kid, but it was not to be, as he got pretty much forgotten for the most parts of the film.
Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor hit all the right buttons with the Crank films, but fell way short with this gaming effort. Sure their elements of gratuitous nudity, sex and violence still continue into here, but in having to concentrate on those trees to draw in the crowd, they essentially sacrificed the rest of the forest, with the cast being grossly underused, the potential of being more cerebral exploring the symbiotic relationship being puppets and masters, being traded for mediocre, unexciting action sequences, and not to mention slapping in plenty of scenes just for the sake of. Those who nausea easily are warned to steer clear.