It's a game of cat and mouse for Roy Scheider (The French Connection, Sorcerer) in Night Game. Cast as Mike Seaver, a Galveston police detective, Scheider’s in hot pursuit of serial killer terrorizing the city. When a string of murders is linked to night baseball games at the Astrodome, it’s Seaver (a former minor league player) pulling together clues and racing against time to prevent yet another murder.
“At least we know two things; he’s got a taste for blondes, and he’s got nice handwriting.”
Serial killer thrillers have to be built around an interesting premise. There needs to be a reason or intricate motive for the routine killings, there needs to be a compelling killer, and there needs to either be a grizzled hardened detective, or a young amateur that has to be willing to give up everything to deliver the killer into the arms of the law or introduce him or her to their maker. ‘Manhunter,’ ‘Sea of Love,’ ‘Blue Steel,’ these are movies that follow these genre conventions to the letter. ‘Night Game’ however is a thriller that tries to stand alongside its cinematic siblings, it certainly has a hook to it - pun intended, but it can’t quite stand on its own.
Veteran Galveston, Texas detective Mike Seaver, Roy Scheider (not the ‘Growing Pains’ character), is an inch or two away from career burnout. He’s dedicated to his job, but at his age all he wants to do is marry is young bride to be Roxy, Karen Young, and listen to Astros games while he relaxes. Interrupting his new life mission is a string of serial killings that litter the beachside seemingly at random.
Without any clues to go on, the local police force is at wits end trying to solve these senseless murders. Mike’s got a few hunches left, but with his history as a former Dallas ballplayer, few are willing to give his ideas the time of day until things start to become all too clear. The madman they’re after only kills when a specific pitcher for the Astros wins a night game at home. Why does this maniac feel compelled to kill when the Astros’ star pitcher cinches a game? Mike must answer that question quickly before another women, possibly his own bride-to-be, losers her life.
To call ‘Night Game’ a stretch would be a bit of an understatement. To keep with the baseball analogy, this is a movie whose lineup doesn’t have enough depth to go extra innings. The idea of a player obsessed killer using the player’s victories as motivation to kill isn’t exactly a new concept, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been used to better effect here. In the case of ‘Night Game’ things feel entirely to thin and stretched even for this 96 minute run time. Part of the problem is much of the story hinges on ultra thin character development.
As you watch the movie, you can feel all of the plot turns and genre conventions coming a long way off. When you should be feeling some amount of excitement or interest building, it just kinda peters out as you’re ready for something unexpected to happen. Only problem is the audience is about twenty minutes ahead of the movie so suspense is diminished long before we come to a climax. Not helping matters is the poster artwork, which actually gives away a lot more about the plot than any piece of marketing should - especially for a particular piece of evidence that is an essential element to the killer’s identity. Then there are moments like when it turns out Mike used to be a pro baseball player himself, explaining his devotion to the sport - and it also puts him in the mindset of the potential killer. That would have been interesting if it was actually used the way it was inferred in the story description on the box art.
It’s especially a shame that ‘Night Game’ doesn’t make more out of its cast. Here you have Roy Scheider doing what he does best, Karen Young playing a nice young frustrated bride/potential victim-to-be, Richard Bradford, Rex Linn, an awesomely sleazy Paul Gleason, and the late great Lane Smith. They’re simply not given much to work with here. There is certainly the makings of a decent thriller for this cast to dominate, but there just ins’t much thought beyond surface character development and genre tropes to be of much use for them. Spencer Eastman and Anthony Palmer’s script and the rather clunky direction of Peter Masterson don’t help matters much. Plot lines come up, seem like they’re going to be interesting or payoff later down the line, but are ultimately dropped or forgotten about entirely. It’s a movie that needed a lot more going for it to be something memorable. In the end, ’Night Game’ is a movie that I wanted to like better than I did, but it just ends up being something to watch late at night when nothing else is on.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Night Game’ arrives on Blu-ray from Olive films on a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens directly to the main menu that features a static image that replicates the original poster artwork.
‘Night Game,’ actually makes for a halfway decent debut on Blu-ray. The 1080p 1.85:1 transfer is pretty strong. Colors have wonderful pop to them, especially blues considering the beachfront locations. Skin towns are spot on - all you have to do is compare the rest of the cast to the ever tan Roy Scheider as a benchmark. Shadows and black levels get plenty of exercise, in particular a scene where the killer chases a victim through a construction site, lending to a nice sense of depth with a tad bit of crush here and there. Film grain has been preserved giving way to some pretty solid detail levels. There are some instances of softness here and there, especially during the Fun House scene, but not so bad to kick the score down for. Especially nice to see is that the print is in fine shape without much if any damage apparent. All in all ‘Night Game’ makes a fine HD presentation.
On top of the strong HD Image is a serviceable DTS-HD MA 2.0 track for ‘Night Game.’ This isn’t to say that this track has anything wrong with it exactly, it’s just not one to blow your hair back either. Levels are nice as dialogue, sound effects, and music don’t have to fight over each other. Imaging is pretty good, making some decent use of the front channels, but it’s ultimately rather flat. Since much of this movie takes place on or near a beach, I imagine an amount of dubbing and sound effects editing had to take place to get usable dialogue. At times it feels like natural sounds that should be present, like wind or waves crashing aren’t there making this film sound hollow at times. There aren’t any pops or breaks in the track, but I did pick up some audible hiss here and there in some of the quieter moments.
There are no extra features present.
‘Night Game’ is a movie that could have and should have been a fun feature - especially with the cast at hand. Its biggest problem is that it rests its premise on a very thin wire connecting the killings to our hero, baseball, his loved ones, and ultimately back to the killer. There’s too much convenience and too much wasteful filler that doesn’t need to be there. The cast is strong, Scheider looks like he was having fun on this shoot, but ultimately ‘Night Game’ just isn’t that memorable. With a strong HD transfer and a reliable audio track, ‘Night Game’ is worth a look, but don’t expect too much or you’ll spoil any fun to be had.