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The Game (1997)
Rated R

Starring: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, and Deborah Unger

Rating:
***1/2
out of
*****

Nicholas Van Orton is a troubled investment banker. He's haunted by the thought that he's just turned 48 years old and that's the age his father was when he committed suicide. Possibly as a result of seeing his dad kill himself, he's now a cold, almost emotionless businessman. When people wish him "Happy Birthday," he doesn't even say, "Thank you." He ignores them.

When Nicholas' younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn) gives him a membership in a strange organization called Consumer Recreation Services, he accepts it hesitantly. Membership in CRS means playing "The Game," which Conrad explains "gives you what you are lacking in life." All Nicholas has to do to accept his membership is to call the phone number Conrad gives him. As Nicholas sits at home, alone, on his birthday, he picks up the phone and calls them, and his life is never going to be the same.

The Game requires the viewer to accept some pretty implausible situations. If you're willing to suspend your disbelief, the movie is a heck of a ride through Nicholas' experiences with "The Game." Any movie that can make you wonder, "Who's in on this and who isn't" throughout the entire running time is usually a lot of fun. The Game is a lot of fun, but it's a strange kind of fun.

Michael Douglas' performance as Nicholas is quite good. His performance is a cross between his Gordon Gecko character from Wall Street and his Nick Curran role from Basic Instinct. He's less slimy than Gecko but just about as harried as Curran. It's always fun to watch Douglas perform in a role that lets him go from one extreme to the other, and this is no exception.

The other performances are harder to judge because the film devotes so much time to Nicholas' character. Deborah Unger is effective as a possible ally in Nicholas' quest to find out what's going on. Sean Penn, also visible for a limited amount of screen time, adds to the paranoia quite well.

The only flaw with the movie is, unfortunately, the end. When a movie spins a web as complicated as this one, the end should wrap things up rather convincingly. The Game's end falls a bit short. It's not a horrible ending, just not an entirely satisfactory one. Still, it can't cripple a movie as strong as The Game too much.

If you're looking for an effective thriller with a little humor thrown in for good measure, check out The Game. Just check your sense of disbelief at the door.

Trivia: Jodie Foster was originally going to star, but was dropped from what she viewed as a firm commitment from PolyGram (the same company her own production company, Egg Pictures, is affiliated with). She sued PolyGram. The case was settled before trial for an undisclosed amount. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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