Let the games begin! 

Although it is being pimped as a thriller, The Game is really all about that special American obsession, therapy. Indeed, the film amounts to not much more than a two-hour visit, with one man undergoing a convoluted and ridiculous form of shock therapy. A tepid Michael Douglas stars as Nicholas Van Orton, a shutdown tycoon with blue blood and bluer balls.

Nicky's response to the childhood trauma of watching his Daddy take a dive from the roof of the family mansion has been to fashion himself as a first-class asshole. On the eve of his 48th birthday, his younger, equally fucked-up brother, Conrad (Sean Penn), takes time out of his busy schedule of jet-set festivities to pop in with a special gift: a vacation "that comes to you" courtesy of a mysterious tourism outfit.

After hearing glowing reports from his fellow magnates, Nicky decides to take his trip, through the looking glass darkly, as it were. He falls into the clutches of Christine (Debra Kerr Unger), the stage manager of the Game masquerading as a churlish waitress.

Expectations were high for director David Fincher after his work on Seven. Now they're low. Yes, Fincher has undeniable visual gifts. At times, especially in the flashback sequences, he achieves a powerful aesthetic, reminiscent of Edward Hopper, articulating Nicky's isolation and spiritual pallor. But the film is long, very long. All of Fincher's razzle-dazzle with the camera and the art department isn't enough to keep the viewer from nodding off as the unconvincing script scurries to and fro in its maze of red herrings and incongruities.

Now that Penn's back before the cameras, surely a Mickey Rourke revival is in the works. Rourke could do no worse than Mr. Penn, who lends his Method Bad Boy Act, a puerile smirk, to the proceedings, with predictably bad results. One is never sure whether a Sean Penn character is ready to kill or is wetting his pants.

Thankfully, Penn's appearances are few and far between, just enough to whet your appetite for even fewer appearances.

Unger, last seen as one of Cronenberg's kinky automatons in Crash, wears out her welcome with almost the same efficiency as Penn. Poor girl. She has been given all kinds of ridiculous tough-girl gush to deliver in that charming Canadian prairie twang of hers. Kerr looks exotic, but is hardly intriguing, a condition that bedevils the entire production.

Intellectuals no doubt will revel in the unexciting interplay of reality and artifice, underscored in bold type by two false, portentous endings.

Less erudite members of the audience will be on the lookout for the real one, if they haven't already found the exit sign. A disappointment.

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