Year: 2009
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Brian Neveldine/David Taylor
Writer: Brian Neveldine/David Taylor
Cast: Gerard Butler, Amber Valetta, Michael C Hall, Kyra Sedgwick, Alison Lohman, Chris Ludacris Bridges

I expected nothing more than a turgid action you usually see when they adapt videogames, and when I learned it had been made by the writer/directors of the Crank films I imagined an experience that would be seared violently onto my retinas rather than viewed.

But even though it certainly wasn't Oscar material I was pleasantly surprised. Both the script and the world of the film did a good job of enmeshing game and online culture with action in the near-future.

An enigmatic, über-rich cyberindustrialist owns the two biggest virtual franchises in the world, Society and Slayers. In each, players aren't controlling digital game characters but real people who've had a neurological implant. Society is like a big Second Life, and pretty Angie (Valetta, who I mistook for Natasha Henstridge) hires herself out as an actressin the game to pay her way.

She does so because her husband John (Butler, who needs to watch his projects or he'll lose his star lustre fast after the woeful Law Abiding Citizen) is a death row inmate, and one of a series of involuntary avatars in Slayers. It's a first person shooter where he's undefeated thanks to his controller, a teenager called Simon, and after completing 30 successful missions he'll be set free.

But there's a conspiracy behind the virtual worlds involving the nasty corporate despot, and John has to convince Simon to let him go long enough to save his wife from the fat sleazebags who play Society and save the day.

The game action is pretty standard, just camera-over-shoulder wargames with game graphics on top, but the images of games and the web of the future are cool and seem prescient.

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