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The Game

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Sean Penn, Peter Donat, James Rebhorn, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Carroll Baker, Anna Katarina, Spike Jonze

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

David Fincher's "The Game" is quite a mind-bending trip to endure, and it is fitfully labyrinthinian and complex enough to give Kafka nightmares. It is manipulative, thrilling, exciting, nerve-wracking nonsense designed to give you a volatile charge every few minutes, and it certainly succeeds.

Actor Michael Douglas gives us a solemn portrait of a wealthy investment banker, Nicholas Van Orton, who lives in a luxurious mansion complete with a forgiving maid (Carroll Baker) and little else. Nicholas lives in solitude with just a television and a remote to occupy his time when he isn't working. One day, he meets his smart-aleck brother, Conrad (Sean Penn) who gives him a pass to CRS (Consumer Recreation Services) for his 48th birthday. This company offers grand entertainment and big thrills - "It'll change your life," says the grinning Conrad.

It certainly does. Nicholas is initially reluctant for excitement but goes along with it anyway. He undergoes an extensive, all-day application process answering feeble-minded questions, enduring various psychological tests, fitness exercises, etc. Eventually, though, his application is rejected but by then it is too late, the game has already started.

This is an intriguing premise for a movie because the "game" itself depends on unpredictable surprises, and sometimes Nicholas is unaware when the game is real and when it isn't. A waitress (Deborah Kara Unger) accidentally spills a tray of drinks on him, but was it really accidental? Could there be a plot against Nicholas perpetrated by a rival (Armin Mueller-Stahl) to take away his fortune? Is Conrad behind all this considering he was a former CRS player? Are people trying to kill him or is this just a game gone too far?

Without the right actor in the lead role, the movie's double twists and red herrings would have been hard to swallow. Douglas is, however, perfectly (and credibly) cast - he brings pathos to this cold, emotionless Gekko-type who we learn to care about, and whom we believe may be in danger. This threatening, terrifying game slowly brings Nicholas out of his repressed shell to confront his feelings, his emotions and his desires. Douglas, a veteran of shattered male egos from "Fatal Attraction" to "Basic Instinct," fully encompasses Nicholas's fears, flaws, and horrible memories specifically his father's suicide that we see in flashbacks.

The rest of the cast does as well as they can with such a mentally puzzling screenplay. Deborah Kara Unger (the siren from "Crash") is the obligatory femme fatale - an enigmatic, voluptuous woman who is fired from her waitress job and accompanies Nicholas to determine the extent of the game he's playing - she is, of course, not what she seems. Nobody in the movie is. Sean Penn has a brief, electrifying cameo as the tense (what else?) Conrad, and veteran actor James Rebhorn is the sly CRS executive who vaguely explains the nature of the "game." There's also a nice bit by Carroll Baker (Baby Doll) as the maid who tells Nicholas stories about his father's past.

The movie "The Game" is not completely successful due to a cop-out finale that renders the rest of the film as insubstantial - let's just say that Kafka was never accused of being a sentimentalist. Still, director David Fincher ("Seven") imbues the screen with his shadowy angles and low-key colors making the "game" as mysterious and frightening as possible. Michael Douglas makes the film his own inhabiting every single shot of the film - we, in effect, are playing the game along with him. "The Game" is not as daring or as original as Welles's "The Trial" or Lynch's far more enigmatic "Lost Highway," or as much fun as the Kafkaesque "U-Turn," but it is a finely acted, occasionally thrilling diversion.

Copyright 1997 Jerry Saravia

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