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Pretty Bad: 6.67%
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2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Game 6
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by Jay Seaver

"Not nearly as scarring as its namesake, which is damning with faint praise."
3 stars

I must admire writer Don DeLillo's restraint. He wrote a movie that spends a great deal of time on both the Boston Red Sox and the New York theater, and never once mentions Henry Frazee. It's surprising, not just because he seems to buy into a whole lot of other pre-2004 rubbish about Red Sox fans, but because it would be a way to link the horrific event of the title to the theater-related events that actually comprise the bulk of the story.

Nicky Rogan (Michael Keaton) is many things: He's a playwright, a husband and father in denial over the collapse of his marriage, a former cabbie, and a Red Sox fan. His newest and most personal play is set to open despite obstacles like a star (Harris Yulin) whose memory is failing thanks to a brain parasite he picked up shooting a movie in Borneo. The movie covers the day leading up to opening night, as Nicky travels across town in a series of cabs, aiming to get a haircut before the show begins, but being sent in different directions by seeing his daughter Laurel (Ari Graynor) in the next taxi, a quick morning tryst with one of his play's backers (Bebe Neuwirth), meeting up with fellow dramatist Elliot Litvak (Griffin Dunne), an underground steam pipe rupturing and spewing forth a cloud of toxic asbestos, and trying to convince his father (Tom Aldrege) to either come to the play or blow it off and watch the game with him. Hovering over all of this is Steven Schwimmer (Robert Downey Jr.), the city's newest theater critic with a reputation for being almost as brutal (Litvak unconsciously recites a scathing review Schwimmer gave him) as he is paranoid and eccentric - he lives off the grid for fear of being attacked by the targets of his criticism, maintains the image of a Tibetan monk, and not only goes to the theater in disguise, but goes armed.

One of the chief mistakes I think DeLillo and director Michael Hoffman make is overselling the Red Sox's tortured history leading up to the night of October 25, 1986. Though I was only thirteen at the time and just really becoming a baseball fan, I don't remember the dread Rogan speaks of; that would come later, as a result of the improbable events of that awful tenth inning (in 1986, no-one had heard of the so-called curse of the bambino). But, to be fair, it was my first baseball heartbreak; Rogan has Pesky not making the relay and Bucky Dent in his consciousness. And let's not forget, I'm a New Englander, and thus a Red Sox fan by default; a New Yorker who followed the Red Sox before 2004 is probably, to a certain extent, drawn to the tragic narrative. Even if it's accurate, though, it's still some pretty heavy-handed foreshadowing to give Keaton lines about how he's certain things will go wrong in the game. We also don't know him well enough, in those early segments, to get how his bland pronouncements of impending doom reflect his character.

Because, you see, we like Nicky Logan pretty quick. Michael Keaton invests him with the charm and almost twitchy energy that made him a star, once upon a time. He's a well-dressed, well-respected playwright, but he chats with his cabbies, is outright enthusiastic to see his daughter, and downplays his own accomplishments, claiming to be a craftsman as opposed to an artist. It takes a while for us to realize how afraid of success he is, even as he craves it. Why else is he reminiscing about where he would take a leak when he used to drive a cab, or bolting to his girlfriend right after assuring his daughter that he really wants to make it work with her mother, or bailing on his own opening night to watch the ballgame? Why's he a Red Sox fan in the middle of New York, when all his neighbors are Yankee fans, and extolling the poetic quality of how Boston loses to a bunch of Met fans? He's messed up, but Keaton doesn't overplay it, so we don't realize just how unhealthy some of those characteristics are until he reaches his breaking point.

Co-star Robert Downey Jr. doesn't have quite so great a character. I wondered if everyone involved was using him to vent their frustration with critics, because he's kind of a caricature: He's got a ridiculous opinion of his own self-importance, with his living in hiding because he fears people will be out to get him, and the Buddhist stuff occasionally comes off as an affectation. He's not looking to recommend or enlighten, but to sneer and tear down the work of actual creative people - heck, he brings a loaded weapon to the theater! He makes vague pronouncements about not tempering his words because people need to know the truth, like he's exposing government corruption. He's a receptacle for every frustration DeLillo, director Michael Hoffman, and Downey have every had with film critics. And yet, Downey keeps him from seeming like a completely ridiculous monster. We don't get as much chance to piece together Schwimmer's backstory as we do with Logan, but we get hints that he's been through stuff, and carries around a more overt depression than Nicky.

The rest of the cast is good, too. Harris Yulin is funny and sad as the actor losing his faculties; Tom Aldrege parallels that as Rogan's father. Bebe Neuwirth and Catherine O'Hara receive pretty prominent billing for their single sequences as the women in Nicky's life - both are matter-of-fact about dealing with Nicky's issue, with Neuwirth's mistress almost pitying and O'Hara's wife projecting a subdued anger. Ari Graynor is especially good as Nicky's daughter, wanting to pull away but loving him too much. Griffen Dunne is a pleasant distraction as Litvak, showing on the surface what Rogan keeps buried.

Hoffman's direction is pretty decent, too. The script he's working for is not the greatest, but he lets his actors work without getting in the way. He got a few chills from me with his cut-aways to an empty Shea Stadium before gametime, but I don't know how much the unopened bottles of champagne or the pan through the locker room, showing the uniforms of my first favorite team (Rice, Evans, Boggs, Clemens, Hurst, Stanley, Gedman...) affect someone eles. It seems like a good recreation of 1980s New York; even the cinematography seems to recall movies of that period with low lighting and slightly grainy cinematography. There is some slightly dodgy looking effects when the steam pipe bursts, although the scenes after, with men in hazmat suits walking around the street, is beautifully surreal.

It's the script that's the problem. Though the title of the film is "Game 6", and the game is mentioned a lot, it's rather peripheral to what's going on, which is this guy who generally writes comedies with names like "Yessirree Bob", growing ever more nervous before the debut of a play based on his life even while that life is showing strain. The baseball is a recurring motif that only barely ties in through most of the movie, and even when it leads to a very nice scene between Keaton, Downey, and Graynor at the end, it's almost too little too late. Besides, we all know what kind of a stomach punch this game was at the time, and the end of Nicky's story can't match the strong emotions it made fans feel. The way a character flips out toward the end is also heavy-handed; what happens just doesn't seem like enough to force this confrontation.

It's a pity; I wanted to really like this movie, considering the cast and how the recent World Series victory made this particular game less of an open wound (note that the movie was shot before the 2004 Series). But I was only able to kind of like it, and that's despite being predisposed toward it.

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originally posted: 03/18/06 01:12:18
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/29/11 hurdygurdy man Though a Bosox fan, found this as engrossing as an intentionall pass. 2 stars
8/09/06 Elizabeth S Some good moments; any sports fan can relate 3 stars
7/10/06 William Goss Superficial enough, but a pleasant diversion still. 3 stars
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  10-Mar-2006 (R)
  DVD: 23-May-2006



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