[Screen It]


(1997) (Michael Douglas, Sean Penn) (R)

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Bad Attitude
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Suspense/Thriller: A wealthy executive must figure out what's real and what's not as his world turns upside down after signing up for a mystery "game."
Nicholas Van Orton (MICHAEL DOUGLAS) is a wealthy investment banker who spends his forty-eighth birthday the way he does every other day -- doing business and then going home alone. His younger, troubled brother, Conrad (SEAN PENN), sensing that Nicholas' life needs to be shaken up a bit, gets him a gift certificate to Consumer Recreation Services (CRS), a company that provides tailor fitted, unique & always surprise-filled "vacations" for such people. Nicholas is reluctant at first and admits that he hates surprises, but a sales pitch by CRS employee Jim Feingold (JAMES REBHORN) and positive testimonials from previous participants convinces him to give it a try. After he fails the preliminary tests, though, he figures the "game" is off. Nonetheless, when he gets home the anchor on the evening news begins talking to him through the TV set, and soon Nicholas finds himself fully immersed in their plan where he's told that the object of this game is to figure out the object of the game. At first it seems humorous and innocent enough, but soon things that were simply annoying and unpredictable -- his briefcase combination doesn't work anymore -- become dangerous -- with people trying to kill him, and he begins to wonder what's really going on. He then questions whether someone's really trying to get him, if it's all part of "the game," or if he's just going crazy, which is what many of his associates, including his lawyer, Samuel Sutherland (PETER DONAT), begin to think about him and his wild conspiracy stories. As things become more hairy and out of control, Nicholas, along with the help of Christine (DEBORAH KARA UNGER), a waitress who's been thrown into the game, tries to figure out what's really going on and who, if anyone, he can trust.
The twist and turns plot may draw teens to see this film, but preteens probably won't have much of an interest in it.
For language, and for some violence and sexuality.
  • MICHAEL DOUGLAS plays a wealthy investment banker with an elitist attitude toward others. All of that changes, however, as his world turns upside down. Soon he's forced to see the "other side" and along the way he naturally becomes paranoid and uses a gun when he feels his life is threatened.
  • DEBORAH KARA UNGER plays a waitress/CRS employee who switches back and forth so many times from patsy to conspirator that it's hard to tell where she falls in the role model category.
  • SEAN PENN plays the younger troubled brother with a reported drug abuse problem in his past (nothing's seen) who buys "the game" for Nicholas' birthday.


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    To fully enjoy this film, one must first learn and agree to its rules of play. You must accept, without hesitation, that Michael Douglas' character -- a highly successful control freak -- would waste an entire day allowing an unknown company to test him for a "game" he doesn't know anything about. The second rule is that you must also leave any notions of disbelief at the door before you sit down to watch this film. If you can do this, you'll have a tremendous amount of fun playing the game with Michael Douglas. This is because a great deal of the film's enjoyment is riding along with him through his world that's turned upside down into a paranoid, suspicion- filled arena. Basically the plot of the ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances, the story harkens to previous films such as "After Hours" and "North by Northwest" where those characters had similarly strange events occur that got more bizarre and dangerous as they unfolded. What sets this movie apart from those -- and any other conspiracy films -- is the "game" aspect of it. We know that there's going to be fun to be had, and the anticipation and guessing of what's coming around the next corner is a big part of the film. When things turn dangerous, we get worried -- but in a sort of fun house way -- that everything may not be quite so innocent. As things turn deadly we wonder, as does the main character, about whether things have taken a turn for the worse, or if they're just part of the game. All of the events, when looked at in a logical or realistic way, seem preposterous, but that's also part of the fun. The odds of most of them just occurring, let alone in the order they do, is astronomical. But director David Fincher ("Alien 3" and "Seven"), who continues to impress audiences and critics alike with his wildly imaginative shooting and storytelling style, uses that disbelief to his advantage. Just as he never lets on as to whether the film is meant to be taken seriously (as in something really is amiss), or whether he's just playing his own game with the audience, Fincher puts us in Nicholas' shoes, where our thoughts and reactions mirror his. To top it off, he never lets on as to whether the movie will have a shocking, brutal end (like "Seven"), or a "the joke's on you" finale. And there's no one more game to play a character in this sort of story than Michael Douglas. Having already starred in roles where his characters' lives dissolve into madness (in "The War of the Roses"and "Falling Down"), Douglas is perfectly cast as the snobby, anti-social executive who finds his world falling apart all around him. The only problem I had with his character was that I wasn't entirely convinced of his motivation to get involved in such an unknown commodity in the first place. While that's a minor objection, his slick corporate business self would have been too skeptical, and a little extra push (from the screenwriters) would have helped cement his sticking around. The other characters are merely pawns in the game and appear when needed and then retreat into the dark corners of what has become Nicholas' personal hell. Penn, as usual, is quite good in his limited role, and Unger (last seen in "Crash") also delivers the goods. While the plot does keep the audience guessing as to what's really going on or what's going to happen next, it does become slightly dull about half way through. At that point we've figured out something weird is occurring, but the twists and turns have slowed down and the story begins to get a bit boring. It picks up again, however, once Nicholas takes a more pro-active role in figuring out the truth, but one wishes that occurred a little earlier in the story. Similarly, once we discover what's really happening, we feel something of a let down since it appears that the plot boiled down to something very simplistic after such a big buildup. One should remember, though, that in this film, things are never quite what they seem. As Nicholas scrambles for the truth, the film concludes with a terrific, "Is it real? Or is it not?" twisting finale. If you like your movies slightly weird, off the wall, and where you're always guessing as to what's really happening, you'll thoroughly enjoy this film. We did, and give "The Game" a 7.5 out of 10.
    For parents and others concerned about the content of this movie, the truth should be told. Nothing is really what it seems to be in this film. Thus many of the events that are listed below and are seen or occur on screen may not actually be "real." That said, several people are shot and killed in a few scenes. Profanity -- the one thing that's certain to be real -- is extreme with 25+ "f" words and others. Some people drink and other smoke in a few scenes and while cocaine is seen in another, it's not used. Sex is limited to some polaroid photos (showing a bare butt) and a porno tape from which we hear a woman's moaning (but don't see anything explicit). If you and/or any of your children wish to see this film, we suggest that you examine the content to determine whether it's appropriate.

  • Old film footage shows people drinking cocktails in several shots.
  • Nicholas often has wine with dinner and in other scenes drinks cocktails (as do others in the backgrounds of shots).
  • It's noted that Conrad had a previous drug problem, and he comments that he bought "crystal meth" from a restaurant maitre d.
  • Nicholas finds cocaine on a mirror in his hotel room and rushes to dispose of it before anyone finds him there with it.
  • People have drinks at a party.
  • Nicholas cuts his hand on a broken mirror and is a little bloody.
  • By the end of the movie, Nicholas has a few bloody scrapes on his face.
  • A man who's been shot has a bloody wound in his chest.
  • Some may view all of the behavior toward Nicholas (by those involved with CRS) as having some of both types of attitude as they not only mess with his mind, but also try to kill him on several occasions.
  • Nicholas has an elitist attitude toward those "below" him and appears to be very much the snob as the story begins.
  • Conrad smokes a cigarette despite Nicholas telling him it's against the law in California restaurants.
  • A great deal of the movie has an ominous, foreboding atmosphere hanging over it.
  • Nicholas finds a large clown doll in his driveway (originally thinking it's a person), and its appearance is somewhat spooky.
  • A security dog chases Nicholas and Christine down a darkened alley.
  • Nicholas finds himself trapped in an out of control taxi that then plummets into the Bay and sinks toward the bottom.
  • CRS men show up and fire machine guns at Nicholas and Christine, riddling the home with bullet holes. They then do the same to Nicholas' car as the two speed away.
  • Nicholas is again chased by people who want to kill him and he must then decide whether all of this is real or just part of "the game" as he prepares to shoot the first person who comes out through a door.
  • Handguns/Machine Guns: Used to threaten, injure or kill people. See "Violence" for details (but as noted in the "Our Word to Parents" section, some of what occurs may or may not be "real" in the movie, but it still occurs on screen).
  • Phrases: "Pissed."
  • A man jumps from the top of a building to kill himself.
  • Trying to pull such pranks on other people.
  • Christine tells Nicholas that she's not wearing any underwear (which is why he has to climb out of an elevator before her).
  • Nicholas discovers too late that Christine has drugged him and he passes out.
  • Nicholas asks if he can borrow the yellow pages from an establishment and then yanks them from the phone and leaves.
  • Nicholas gets a jolt from a short in a light switch.
  • Nicholas is surprised (as is the audience) when someone suddenly comes up behind him at his house.
  • A man suddenly shows up trying to carjack Nicholas' car.
  • The entire movie has a foreboding musical theme throughout a great deal of it, and that, added to the several scenes where there's more intensely suspenseful music, gives the film a moderate rating.
  • The song "White Rabbit" (with implied drug use) by the 60's group Jefferson Airplane is heard in the movie.
  • At least 31 "f" words (1 used sexually and another is used with "mother"), 6 "s" words, 4 asses (3 used with "hole"), 2 S.O.B.s, 2 hells, 2 damns, and 8 uses of "G-damn," 2 uses each of "Jesus" and "Oh my God," and 1 use each of "God," "Oh God," and "For Christ's sakes" as exclamations.
  • Nicholas reads a statement from a CRS questionaire, "I feel guilty when I masturbate." Later, while watching a quick montage of varying subject material, the word "orgasm" if flashed on the screen as is a quick Japanese "cartoon" art still that shows a man and woman having sex.
  • We see Christine in her bra as she undresses to shower.
  • Later she's seen in her bra in several polaroid photos Nicholas finds in his hotel room. Along with that are similar shots showing a woman's bare butt and a porno video tape plays in the background (we don't see any explicit shots but we do hear a woman's pleasured moaning).
  • Old film footage shows people smoking in a few shots.
  • Conrad smokes a cigarette despite Nicholas telling him it's against the law in California restaurants.
  • Nicholas meets with several club members who smoke cigars.
  • A man that Nicholas is trying to fire smokes cigars in several scenes.
  • Christine smokes in several scenes.
  • Old film footage (representing Nicholas' memory) shows the young boy coming home to see his father standing on the roof of their mansion and then jumping to his death.
  • We learn that Nicholas and his wife are divorced (but not too much is made of that).
  • Paranoia and conspiracy theorists.
  • We briefly see Nicholas thrashing his briefcase on the floor and against a bench after he earlier couldn't get it open.
  • Nicholas grabs the gun from a man who's been following him and then fires it into the man's tire.
  • CRS men show up and fire machine guns at Nicholas and Christine, riddling the house with bullet holes. They then do the same to Nicholas' car as the two speed away.
  • A man tries to carjack Nicholas' car by holding a sharpened blade at his throat, but Nicholas shows the man his gun and the guy runs off.
  • Nicholas holds his gun on several people as he tries to uncover the truth. During one of these, guards come out with machine guns and fire at him, shooting several others instead.
  • A man is shot dead.

  • Reviewed September 8, 1997

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