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Deadly Play

The Game
Tony Friedkin

Playing Along: An uptight billionaire (Michael Douglas) feels torn in two by the demands made on him by 'The Game.'

The menacing mood outweighs the clunky method in 'The Game'

By Richard von Busack

DAVID FINCHER IS SUCCESSFULLY creating a name for himself as a director of nocturnes. Throughout his three movies, there are flashes of a diabolical genius--despite the generally compromised scripts from which he works. Alien3, his darkest film, was troubled from its origin; Seven was flawed by the puerile Brad Pitt. In his latest film, The Game, Fincher shuffles a series of false endings like a director who can't choose between possibilities--and then chooses the cheapest, the easiest and the most nonsensical. And yet, as in all of Fincher's movies, there are passages of deep suspense, fright and shocking black comedy.

The premise is something Rod Serling would have handled in 30 minutes: the comeuppance of Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), a vicious, isolated San Francisco billionaire, at the hands of CRS, a company that plays dangerous games for hire with human beings. The tale unfolds episodically, with Van Orton fleeing from one trap to another. Sean Penn, whose part is barely more than a cameo, plays Van Orton's wastrel brother, who hires the company as a birthday present. The action sequences are often tired (particularly the chase through Chinatown) and don't have any integral connection to the mood of invasive dread that Fincher's trying to establish. On the plus side, there is blonde Mongol Deborah Kara Unger (last seen in Crash) as a woman who might or might not be employed by CRS. Unger is an outstanding fatale; her voice is so throaty that it seems to rumble subsonically. Douglas' onscreen bastardy gets more interesting with every year he ages. I'm convinced that any day now Fincher will make a thriller that is an unmixed pleasure. Until then, I recommend The Game despite an ending that makes you feel not beguiled, but suckered.


The Game (R; 128 min.), directed by David Fincher, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, photographed by Harris Savides and starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn.

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From the Sept. 11-17, 1997 issue of Metro.

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