A quick look at Roy Scheider’s work in the 1970’s and early 80’s shows that he was easily one of the most reliable leading men on the silver screen. Whilst not all his films managed to hit big at the box office they are mostly all quality outings and he is guaranteed to give a solid performance. However, every run has to come to an end and Night Game is anything but a home run.
Scheider is a cop on the trail of a serial killer around Galveston, Texas. Young ladies are being murdered with some daubing’s being left on the walls to link them together. Night Game slips a little into the horror genre given the grizzly killings and attack sequences that feel influenced by the run of Friday the 13th and such other franchises doing the rounds.
The plot is wafer thin and the film merely treads water until it’s time for Scheider to connect the dots together and work out who the killer is. To pad things out the film falls back on the relationships between the main characters. Addressing the age difference between Scheider’s aged cop and Roxy, played by Karen Young, who would have been in her early 30’s, helps the film have something to do.
The murderous moments are displaced by a strangely likeable relationships that include the dynamic between Young’s mother Carlin Glynn and Scheider; who is more Scheider’s age. Scheider’s strange friendship with his stressed captain, Richard Bradford. Paul Gleeson pops up now and again as the smarmy Sheriff who enjoys harassing Scheider’s investigation and giving Scheider someone to butt heads with.
Some fun trivia is that Karen Young had, two years previously, played what would be Martin Brody’s daughter-in-law, Carly Brody in Jaws: The Revenge. I’m sure Young and Scheider traded some stories on set about that franchise. There is another Jaws moment as Scheider inspects a body on a beach and has difficulties with the powers that be. The only thing missing is Scheider demanding they close the beaches.
Moving into spoiler territory in this paragraph only. Night Game deals with its killer in an interesting way, this isn’t a Whodunnit in the traditional sense. We see the killer quite early on and they are not attached to any of the subplots in the movie. Whilst this removes a typical cliche of the genre, it does lose a lot of the mystery as the film plods along.
Night Game sounds pretty reasonable so far, but it isn’t. The film is aggravating at almost every turn with clichés and poor decisions to stretch out the limited story-line and runtime. Frequent eye rolling occurs at an alarming rate with the dialogue and plot devices.
The film opens with some unimaginative credits popping up over night footage of Galveston shot from a helicopter with the most off-putting saxophone music playing. You would think you are watching some sort of cheap, erotic cable movie.
There are little things that annoy, like the Captain telling his officers they are going to be working round the clock as this case was to be focused on. The next scenes have Scheider visiting his fiancée, gifting a TV to his mother-in-law, shopping for wedding dresses and … dancing in the discothèque. Not exactly focusing.
Actor turned Director Peter Masterson has a list of forgettable films that attracted some big names including Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper, Rutger Hauer and Robert Duvall in starring roles. However, you will struggle to remember them if you have seen any of them. Whilst the odd shot might leave a lasting impression on you here, there is nothing that makes this film stand out.
Hide in Plain Sight scribe Spencer Eastman wrote the story and worked on the screenplay with Anthony Palmer, an actor who appears in the film and again with Scheider in the top notch thriller 52 Pick-Up a couple of years prior. Also, keep an eye out for Renée O’Connor from Xena: Warrior Princess in an early role.
The most egregious moment comes during the climax as Scheider, who has worked out who the killer is, races to aid the “next victim” (staying spoiler-free.) Spotting the killer across the dance floor of the aforementioned disco, a busy disco at that, this victim turns and slips out the back door and isolates herself from the dozens of people who can help and protect her. The killer follows purely in an effort to ramp up the tension as Scheider closes in.
The problems in Night Game are far from Scheider’s fault, he provides a quality leading performance and makes it a lot easier to watch. Without Scheider bringing his own level of quality this film is dead in the water. Arriving at the end of the 80’s Night Game was sent out to play during extra innings. It really brings nothing new to the genre and will have those well versed in the genre drumming their fingers, looking for some originality as it all has been done better before, elsewhere.
Night Game had a decent looking poster on its release with Scheider towering over the baseball field. Later posters contained a hook and this could be classed as a spoiler.