Saeed Adyani, Lionsgate
Gerard Butler stars as Kable in the movie "Gamer."

GAMER — ★1/2 — Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges; rated R (violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity, sex, nudity, slurs, brief drugs); in general release

The "Crank" movies weren't exactly examples of great filmmaking. But at least they knew they were trashy and they didn't take themselves too seriously.

If only that were true of "Gamer," which comes from the same writing-directing duo — Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. This science-fiction thriller is so deadly serious that it would be laughable if it weren't so sleazy and reprehensible.

In fact, the only funny thing about the movie is its attempts at social commentary (such as heavy-handed bits about consumerist society and about Internet addiction and video-game violence).

Is that hypocritical? Yes. But it's not much fun either, which is worse.

Gerard Butler stars as John Tillman, better known as Kable. He's a combatant in "Slayers," a real-life video game that uses death-row inmates as human fodder.

The actions of Kable and his fellow "generi-cons" are controlled by gamers. Supposedly if the "generi-cons" can survive 30 combat sessions they'll be freed. And Kable is hoping to return to his wife and daughter (Amber Valletta and Brighid Fleming).

Unfortunately, he's being used as a pawn in a struggle between the game's megalomaniacal designer, Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall), and a resistance faction (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges plays the leader of this group).

The action scenes are competent enough, but the plot comes off as a more-unpleasant cross between the "Death Race" remake and "Tron."

Neveldine and Taylor can't resist throwing in some sleaze (a "sims" game leads to some really grotesque moments).

Only Hall (Showtime's "Dexter") seems to understand that this is nonsense and acts the part. Supporting performers Bridges, Kyra Sedgwick, Alison Lohman (Neveldine's new bride) and John Leguizamo seem clueless.

"Gamer" is rated R and features strong violent content (gunplay and shootings, knife play and stabbings, fisticuffs and brawling, vehicular and explosive mayhem, violence against women, and child-in-peril elements), graphic blood and gore, strong sexual language (profanity, slang and other suggestive talk), crude references and off-color humor, simulated sex and other sexual contact, female ad partial male nudity, derogatory language and slurs (some based on race and sexual orientation), and brief drug content (use of hypodermics, as well as toxic chemicals and hallucinogens). Running time: 95 minutes.

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