It is the future and computer gaming has evolved to the next level, whereby now you can control an actual person thanks to nanotechnology implanted into their brains. The man behind this advance is Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), a genius whose methods have opened up new vistas of leisure time to the world, but have also created a class of people who are more or less forced to participate as the characters being operated in the games. The first game is Society, where these unfortunates give up their freedom to act out the players' fantasies - but the second game is even more serious.
We were back in futuristic dystopian game scenarios yet again, and after The Tenth Victim and Rollerball and The Running Man and Series 7: The Contenders and countless more with The Hunger Games to follow, they were updated to the computer game age to tell the gamers off for unthinkingly playing out these violent concepts. Except in the hands of directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor you could tell they were revelling in it all and how it allowed them to tell a story warning audiences of the perils of soulless sensation while pretty much being soulless sensation itself. You could accuse them of hypocrisy, though their Crank movies had featured the same levels of mayhem without the moralising.
And the Crank movies were more enjoyable for not having that serious dimension to drag everything down, even if they went all out to exhaust the viewer with a barrage of imagery and noise. The trouble here was that they wished to teach us a lesson, and they were grindingly heavy-handed about it, so it was little wonder nobody flocked to see this when there was a Crank sequel to be getting on with. Some did like a lecture with their sex and violence, but it was so blatant that you were meant to be getting off on the movie's excesses that the tonal confusion hampered the plot fatally, leaving not shock but a shrug, unimpressed at what may have been busily conceived, but wasn't especially entertaining.
Gerard Butler was our hero, a man who plays in the second game Slayers, which takes the form of pressing convicts into service as pawns in a war game. If they die, well, that's no great loss, they were serving sentences for grave crimes, and the bonus is that they've contributed some excitement to those who control them and those who like to watch. The idea that people actually enjoy seeing convicts punished to the extent it passes for entertainment is an intriguing one, but like a lot of what went on here never went much beyond the facile, another element of the supposedly daring nature of the film. And given that Tillman, the character Butler played, is really innocent was either a get out clause for the directors or a massive cliché.
Or both. Tillman is the best Slayer around, except it's not too clear if that's down to his personal skill in combat or because the chap directing him, Simon (Logan Lerman), is so good at the game. Later on, of course Tillman is revealed to be great at what he does, which begs the question why bother have the prisoners controlled in the first place if they're going to do just the same without their players? Tillman's wife Angie (Amber Valletta) is part of the Society arrangement now that she has lost everything - including her daughter who has been given up for adoption - and he must save them both, leaving this far more conventional than you might have hoped for all these bells and whistles going on around the characters. Every so often there will be a moment which indicates what could have been done to capitalise on the decadent future premise, but the best bit is where Hall performs a dance number to Sammy Davis Jr's singing, apropros of not much. Music by Robb Williamson and Geoff Zanelli.