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when considering david fincher's latest film , " the game " , four words come to mind .
" don't believe the hype . "
this michael douglas vehicle , from the director of " seven " , isn't nearly as clever or innovatively suspenseful as it would have us believe .
the film draws us in with an intriguing concept ( aided no doubt by the riveting trailer ) where a jaded millionaire ( douglas ) is presented with the opportunity to enter into a living fantasy .
this isn't simply virtual reality .
this is real life with a deadly twist .
on his 48th birthday , nicholas van orton ( douglas ) is invited to dinner by his underachieving younger brother , conrad ( sean penn ) .
conrad has a special birthday present for his brother .
he hands nicholas a gift certificate and tells him to contact a company called consumer recreation services .
" they make your life fun , " conrad tells him .
nicholas humors his brother , telling him he'll call , but it's clear he has no time for any foolish , " fantasy role-playing , " as he calls it .
then , for reasons that are never really made clear , nicholas decides to go to crs and see what they're all about .
he ends up spending a whole day going through their screening process , which to me made no sense considering the tight schedule he keeps claiming to have .
nevertheless , when it seems nicholas has been rejected as a crs client , the weird things start happening .
of course , when we've only covered about 30 minutes of screen time , what else should we expect .
douglas has built his modern career around playing powerful , violent and unlikable men being manipulated by unseen hands .
one of those films , " basic instinct " , came from the creative minds of writer , joe eszterhas and director , paul verhoeven .
the premise of " the game , " is not unlike the concept of another verhoeven film , " total recall . "
in that case , the premise was implanting someone else's memories as a way to enhance one's own life through a dream vacation .
yet , in both films , the real goal is to create a vicarious bond with the audience .
we live the adventure along with the protagonist , reacting to each twist and turn .
in theory , the key to the suspense is not being to tell what is real and what isn't .
all we can do is hang on until the end of the ride , when the truth is finally revealed .
now , for those of you who forgot , let me say this again .
" don't believe the hype . "
" the game " is not a thrilling roller coaster ride .
as a suspense-thriller , it doesn't do much but spin in circles .
by the third reel , i was fighting back sleep and checking my watch as i endured the predictable plot .
is it any wonder douglas won't be able to resist the charms of a mysterious , potentially life-threatening blonde ( ever heard of glenn close ?
no ? well , how about sharon stone ?
thought so ) .
if anything in this film surprises you at all , i would guess you haven't seen that many films .
there is no suspense here .
trust me , i looked hard to find some .
i had to settle for contrived gimmicks and ridiculously implausible situations .
fincher aim's for hitchcock but lands somewhere just north of joe eszterhas .
there are those that might say " the game " is not intended to be viewed literally .
i would submit that is exactly the way i tried to view the film .
the film simply does not have the teeth to bite into any real psychological issues .
there is a moment early in the film where van orton , realizing his game has begun , smiles as he walks through the airport trying to figure out who's in on the whole thing .
he is charged by his paranoia .
he is looking at the world through new eyes .
it is the last thought-provoking moment in the film .
from there on , the director only wants to stay a step ahead of us .
any significant archetype that is set up in the beginning of the film is simply turned into a plot device .
at the outset , we're told each " game " is tailored to the individual .
ultimately , this " game " is supposed to work like a crucible , trying this obscenely wealthy and emotionally detached aristocrat by fire , proving his soul .
yet , as douglas endures his personal gauntlet , we're given very few pieces of the puzzle to illuminate us on who this man really is .
i wanted to like this film more than i did .
i look at it as just anothergreat idea , poorly realized .
i can think of at least two other superior films where watching the film didn't mean we were seeing what was really happening .
bryan singer's " the usual suspects " for one , a film that was truly unique in its ability to get you lost in the details before pulling back to show you the full masterpiece on the canvas .
also , there is the underrated " jacob's ladder , " with tim robbins , a film that really has to be watched twice before you recognize the significance of all its symbolism .
here are two examples of films that don't simply manipulate for manipulations' sake .
there are films that use their labyrinth structure to lead us to a meaningful place .
one major issue that comes up in " the game " is whether or not the whole " illusion " is just a highly sophisticated con game .
well , i can tell you right now , after you've spent your $7 dollars , you may be asking yourself the same thing .