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Night Game
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Serial Killer and the Houston Astros."
3 stars

A functional low-budget police procedural with the dependable Roy Scheider isn't a bad way to spend a boring weekend afternoon.

Night Game is probably the most leisurely paced of the serial-killer thrillers, and it's both a strength and a weakness -- the latter in that the film lacks all-encompassing suspense, and the former in that a good deal of flavor and color are garnished onto the proceedings. The setting is the resort town of Galveston, Texas, and the baseball-loving citizens are Houston Astros-crazy this time of year. And so is someone else -- a fiend who kills pretty blonde women with one fell swoop of his hand with a hook-like instrument in it; he carries this out right after the Astros win a home night game when a particular pitcher plays. The forensic evidence is yielding very little, and due to a recession the governor's office is particularly eager to have the murders solved to help out an already-depletive tourist trade. Roy Scheider plays the sergeant in charge of the case, and plays him well. Always personable but occasionally a tad too taciturn for his own good in previous roles, here he's loose and focused and also funny when the script demands, thus forgoing the typical tough-cop characterization that can almost always be counted on to bore an audience to tears. The screenplay by Spencer Eastman and Anthony Palmer occasionally gives the character some non-homicidal matters to deal with, with some of it interesting, some of it not. There's his recent engagement to a much-younger woman and his trysts with her disapproving mother that are revealing of character, but another subplot involving a corrupt county sheriff's penchant for running call girls on the side is extraneous and included, one suspects, because the writers couldn't come up with enough context to fill in the serial-killer plot.

The deduction of clues and eventual unmasking of the killer's identity are satisfying, but they'll come (pardon the phrase) too late in the game for a lot of viewers. Night Game isn't without tension but lacks verve, which is to be expected from any director like Peter Masterson, who did the passable talking-heads pictures The Trip to Bountiful and Full Moon in Blue Water without much distinction. Here his work is predictably indicative of a filmmaker who loves actors (though he allows Richard Bradford, as the police chief, to overact quite horridly), and he gets through the murder sequences without disgracing himself. The film is slight but fun, and I enjoyed the lived-in dailiness to the characters and their seaside milieu, the relaxed rhythm of the narrative, the various tints of Fred Murphy's dexterous lighting -- it's totally unlike the look and feel of your ordinary thriller, and that's part of its appeal. I could have done without a couple of logic loopholes, though: Being that a serial killer is indeed at work, the FBI implausibly doesn't take over jurisdiction (hell, they don't even show up); and the hero's girlfriend, who's a blonde and is obviously set up to be the killer's intended victim later down the line, foolishly isolates herself with the killer instead of remaining safe in a nearby public place. But the film is to be commended for presenting a villain who, when finally revealed, is as scary when fully seen as he is sparsely seen earlier on, and for allotting him a motive that makes some semblances of sense. (Also worth noting: Pino Donaggio delivers his finest score since his magnificent one for Brian De Palma's Blow Out eight years prior.) Night Game isn't the most exciting piece of cinema out there, yet its willingness not to rush things and having the confidence that we'll be kept interested throughout without attention-getting camerabatics and slam-bang editing is commendable, and as a result the rewards are small yet satiable.

Having grossed an ultra-paltry $337,812 in the U.S., this is the kind of little-seen cinematic endeavor that plays out a lot better with expectations set fairly low.

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originally posted: 07/06/06 07:05:47
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User Comments

5/23/14 Danielsan Not a great movie, but Roy Scheider is just so damn good in everything that thiis works. 4 stars
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  15-Sep-1989 (R)



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