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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 09/18/1997,

The Game

David Fincher's grandiloquent mind fuck works tirelessly to maintain its heightened, if heavily engineered, state of paranoia. The film's relative success lies in the dark, eerie moodiness that the director elevated to an art form in Seven. Here, however, his visual palette barely masks a slight, manipulative plot.

As Nicholas Van Orton, Michael Douglas resurrects his Wall Street creep, Gordon Gekko, except this time Douglas's scrutinizing power broker has a hole in his life: he lacks love and excitement. So for his 48th birthday, Nicholas's loopy black-sheep brother Conrad (Sean Penn catching minimal screen time) gives him a gift certificate for a high-concept gaming experience, a personalized adventure that comes to the player. Nicholas's endeavors are surprisingly mundane as he is plagued by a series of minor life tragedies and near-Twilight Zone encounters that imply something larger and more devious is at work. The rocky blur between reality and fantasy aspires to be a Hitchcockian After Hours, but at two hours plus, The Game gets played out early on. Douglas and Penn help keep things credible with solid performances, and Deborah Kara Unger extends the sexual immediacy of her Crash role by playing the object of desire who doesn't wear any panties. At the Cheri, the Harvard Square, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

-- Tom Meek