The Game Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998


What do you get a man who has everything?

"The Game" is the paranoia-inducing suspense thriller co-scripted by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, who like many others working in Hollywood, got their start at Roger Corman's infamous Concord/New Horizons production company, pumping out B-movie scripts with the word 'mutant' in their titles. They had their first success with the paranoia-inducing suspense thriller "The Net" from a couple of years back, and like "The Net", their latest offering is a great piece of edge-of-your-seat entertainment-- as long as you don't think about it.

Do you think of me anymore?
Not since family week at rehab.

Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy investment banker, who lives alone in his grand mansion overlooking San Francisco. He is a cold and detached man that prides himself in having absolute control over everything in his grasp, with an often intimidating demand for strict cooperation for others to play by his rules. On his 48th birthday, the same age at which his emotionally-distanced father committed suicide, Nicholas receives a surprise visit from his younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn from "U-Turn"). Conrad has brought Nicholas a birthday present, a gift certificate for 'The Game', an enigmatic product offering from a company called Consumer Recreation Services. Intrigued by what is described as 'an experiential Book of the Month Club', Nicholas decides to enter 'The Game'.

We provide whatever's lacking.

Slowly and insidiously, things start happening to Nicholas. At first they are merely annoying, such as Nicholas' application being rejected by CRS for being 'unsuitable', waiters spilling drinks on him, or his pen leaking onto his shirt. Gradually, the severity of these incidences escalates, with Nicholas being chased by the dogs, trapped in an elevator, and being shot at by unknown assailants. Soon, his life is completely unraveled by a seemingly omnipotent and omnipresent conspiracy, and his only hope of solving the mystery of 'The Game' is Christine (Deborah Kara Unger, last seen in "Crash"), a waitress (or maybe not?) who Nicholas inadvertently gets fired when she accidentally spills a drink on him (or did she?). As Nicholas plays 'The Game' to the bitter end, navigating its dangerous and unpredictable twists-and-turns, he finds himself humbled and forever changed by the experience.

As I mentioned at the onset, this is not a thinking person's movie. Sure, it may have the trappings of a psychological suspense-thriller, but under examination, the twists in the story are there merely for the sake of surprising the moviegoer who thinks that they have it all figured out, and not the result of clever plotting. Each ordeal that Nicholas endures pushes the limits of plausibility, and contradicts the internal logic that has been established up to that point of the story, even if you give in to the conceit that the shadowy Consumer Recreation Services can muster the resources to engineer such elaborate schemes. But under the edgy direction of David Fincher, who also helmed "Alien 3" and "Seven", it is easy to overlook the flaws of the plot and be swept up into the rapidly-collapsing world of Nicholas Van Orton, that mixes a distinctively moody coldness with runaway bedlam. And Douglas' performance is intense, portraying a man whose every possession is slowly stolen from him, and the subtle transformation that his character undergoes is a showcase for the actor's vast dramatic range.

With never a dull moment, this entertaining movie is worth a look. The story may not make much sense in retrospect, but what a captivating ride it is to realize it.

We never had an unsatisfied customer.

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