There's a lot to like about Seven director David Fincher's third feature, a thriller starring Michael Douglas as a bored executive who gets more than he bargains for when he accepts a mysterious birthday gift from his brother (Sean Penn). After agreeing to take part in a game custom-designed for his personality, Douglas finds his life converted into the fulfillment of a paranoiac's delusions: He begins receiving mysterious notes, his house is broken into, and the television begins addressing him directly. That's just the start of things, and to give away more would be to spoil The Game's pleasures. It's a stylish, cleverly plotted, perpetually unpredictable film with another electric (albeit brief) performance from Penn. So why is it so unaffecting? Though exciting, The Game—like Fincher's Seven and Alien 3 before it—is a cold film. Perhaps the director is incapable of delivering any other kind. But whereas Morgan Freeman filled Seven's oppressive, rain-drenched cityscape with an undeniable humanity, no one ever accused Douglas' screen persona of possessing abundant warmth. At least part of The Game wants to make a point about the vacancy of Douglas' life, and portray his ordeal as a chance at redemption, but by never showing this happen—and by never making its audience care whether Douglas lives or dies—The Game is simply another deflated exercise in thrill-delivery, albeit one that's smarter and more entertaining than most.
More from The A.V. Club