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Paranoia May Destroy Ya.

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

FEBRUARY 23, 1998:  There's an old bumper sticker that says, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you." Kurt Cobain copped it for a line in Nirvana's "Territorial Pissings"—which is apropos, considering the recent rumblings about Kurt and Courtney, a documentary by British filmmaker Nick Broomfield that explores conspiracy theories about Cobain's death. You won't find that film at your local video stores any time soon—Courtney Love is doing her darnedest to keep it out of circulation—but there's plenty of fodder on the racks for those who think that, just maybe, everybody really is out to get them.

Take the new release The Game (1997, R), for example. It has Michael Douglas in yet another of his corporate prick roles, as a man of deep pockets and shallow soul. His black-sheep brother (Sean Penn, who gets the movie's only clever lines) urges him to visit a mysterious company that promises a "life-changing" experience. Soon, control freak Douglas finds himself destabilized: pursued by gunmen, targeted by bizarre vandalism, and alternately aided and assaulted by a blonde femme fatale. Is it just a game? Are they really trying to kill him? Is everyone in on it? The movie's fun as long as those balls stay in the air, but it can't sustain the momentum. By the end, the film's credibility is mostly shot, and it's hard to care one way or the other (especially since Douglas makes almost no effort to be sympathetic). Overhyped director David Fincher (Seven) does more of his stylish but derivative MTV-noir stuff.

In its most nightmarish moments, The Game recalls Martin Scorsese's funhouse black comedy After Hours (1985, R), which sends yuppie Griffin Dunne on a hellish one-night tour of New York's Soho district. The movie manages to be both funny and unsettling at the same time; it doesn't make literal sense, but it has a late-night logic, like a dream that starts out pleasant and somehow goes wrong. The well-deployed supporting cast includes Rosanna Arquette, Linda Fiorentino, Teri Garr, Bronson Pinchot, and Cheech and Chong.

Roman Polanski, a director whose films (and life, for that matter) are rife with paranoia, tackled the subject most explicitly in The Tenant (1976, R), an edgy French psychodrama about a meek office worker (Polanski himself, in a likably befuddled performance) who moves into a spooky tenement building and slowly becomes convinced his neighbors are trying to kill him. After a while, it no longer matters whether he's imagining the conspiracy; like the bumper sticker, the film's point is that paranoia creates its own reality.


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