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No fun and Gamers


DIRECTED BY: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
STARRING: Gerard Butler, John Leguizamo, Michael C Hall

You can’t help but have a soft spot for the Crank movies, but directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have lost something of that enjoyably demented formula in their latest attempt to storm Michael Bay’s castle and crown themselves the action kings of Hollywood.
It’s set in the near future (and we know nothing good or funny can happen there) when the character you play in the video game of your choice is actually a human.
In the game, Slayers, the player inhabits and controls a human avatar and gets to do all sorts of nasty and violent things with powerful weapons – without the bothersome fear of actual mortal harm. 
The avatars themselves are not so fortunate. These guys are death-row inmates who make bits of each other for a shot at freedom – complete 30 missions and you’re pardoned. Top-ranked fighter Kable (Butler) is closing in on the magic number and looking forward to seeing his wife and child again.
In a this-is-the-kind-of-debased-society-we’ve-become sub-plot, Kable’s wife Angie (Amber Valetta) works days in another video game, controlled by an obese gamer who tarts her up in skimpy clothes and has her go dancing for his personal viewing pleasure. But not to worry, wrongly-convicted hubby will be home soon.
Or maybe not. Because Kable is a major attraction and he also seems to have some unpleasant dirt that just might incriminate Ken Castle (Michael C Hall), the suitably mad billionaire mastermind behind Slayers.
So our buffed-up, gun-toting hero – Butler looks the part but Mr Crank, Jason Statham might have been a better fit – won’t be going anywhere soon. Unless he can somehow persuade the teenage gamer who uses him, to hand over control.
It’s all a fine idea and it should have been lots of fun, but the result is a nauseating assault on the senses. One violent and dizzying action scene follows the next, with plenty of skin for the target audience interspersed between them. But there’s hardly a moment for a breath or a bit of peace – let alone a bit of sensible reflection, or any kind of thought beyond the broad proclamation that we’re all a bunch of morally vacuous scumbags. 
Michael C Hall adds a brief touch of humour late on, but by then you’ll be so queasy and bug-eyed you won’t have the energy or the will to laugh. This is like what you might imagine a rush of blood to the head would look like. And at 95 minutes long, it’s not an agreeable rush at all.

The Firm
STARRING: Calum McNab, Paul Anderson, Daniel Mays
CERT: 18

Having contributed The Football Factory to the canon of hooligan movies – and having since seen that canon expanded beyond saturation by every two-bit eejit with a hooligan story to tell – you have to wonder why Nick Love would bother taking to the terraces again.
Especially since his film is not even an original – it’s an adaptation of the acclaimed TV drama from 1988, which had a fearsome young Gary Oldman in a chief role.
Perhaps, having realised early on that he didn’t have a hope of improving on the story, he came to terms with the fact that his initial enthusiasm was really only indulging in nostalgia. Whatever it is, it’s clear his heart just isn’t in it.
Despite this, there is plenty of nostalgia to be had. Especially for those of us who still believe the 80s was the greatest decade for music. But otherwise the film is just another in that long and increasingly tiresome line of hooligan flicks.
Calum McNab plays Dom, a young Londoner who idolises Bex (Anderson), the nutjob head of the West Ham “firm”. The top thug takes a liking to the youngster and recruits him to his football army. And so Dom is soon in the thick of the skirmishes with the rival Millwall firm and gearing up for some jolly times at the 1984 European Championships. But of course, it all becomes a very ugly scene indeed.
Not anything near as ugly as Alan Clarke’s original – partly because no-one here comes even close to Gary Oldman’s frightening sociopath and partly because the ugliness of that story had clear associations with Thatcher’s politics of the day.
Clarke’s characters were very much of their time and place, whereas Love is content to give his hooligans old hairstyles, retro football shirts and nothing much more than an excuse to beat the living crap out of each other – when not spewing dialogue that, even for Love’s basement standards, is infantile.
Speaking of which, that recent spot of bother among the West Ham faithful would suggest that remnants of the old firm – or perhaps their knucklehead offspring – are still carrying the flag, still happy to be morons at large.
No doubt the movie is on its way.

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