Jimmy Traynor, the indefatigable Baltimore-based indie dynamo who’s created over 100 films in the past decade, is back with yet another film. This time around its “Game Plan” and it is certainly among the finest of his astonishing oeuvre.
On the surface, “Game Plan” can be described as sort of a blue-collar version of “Gaslight.” The struggling machinist Warren (Steve Kovalic) is plotting to drive his wife Olivia (Peechee Neric) crazy in order to get his hands on the considerable funds in her insurance policy. To accomplish this, he drugs her water to weaken her body and employs the aid of several sleazy friends (including a would-be Wall Street player and a one-time psychiatrist who was jailed and is now on parole) to insist that Olivia has become delusional. Olivia’s claims that Warren’s friends are trying to molest her are immediately dismissed by Warren as proof that her mind is deteriorating.
While waiting for Olivia to finally crack up, Warren antagonizes her with endless complaints about her inability to satisfy his sexual needs. His demands that Olivia indulge him in kinky shenanigans revolts her, further chipping away at her increasingly fragile strength. Warren also drives Olivia to deep suspicion with prolonged absences, which usually include regular sessions with both the girlfriend of one of his partners-in-crime and with the professional playpal services of a neighborhood hooker. Olivia knows that Warren is unfaithful, as he rarely wears his wedding ring, but the doubts about his fidelity upset her endlessly.
However, Olivia has her own proverbial aces up her sleeves: a disreputable cop who is moonlighting as her detective for hire and a very unlikely student in Stevey, a factory worker who is seeking rehabilitation after suffering a head injury in an industrial accident (Jimmy Traynor). When these characters intrude into the picture, the balance of victim and prey becomes mixed with dramatic results.
“Game Plan” builds slowly but steadily until what should be its conclusion, when the story suddenly takes a new twist…and then another…and then another. At its climax, layer upon layer of deceit and deception are ripped away until the characters (and, indeed, the audience) cannot keep up with the betrayals and surprises that come. By the time the truth finally emerges and the dust is settled and swept off, the result is one of physical and emotional devastation.
Much of the success in “Game Plan” can be given to the leading actors. As the conniving Warren, Steve Kovalic offers a stunning display of a man ruled by greed and vulgarity. Whether ruing how his wife’s insurance funds belong in his possession or making extreme demands on every woman he corners to feed his libido, his villainous personality is both abhorrent and hypnotic. Peechee Neric’s Olivia, as the collapsing victim with an unexpected sense of resolve, is equally wonderful to behold. It is clearly a demanding role, requiring the projection of a fraying mind and once-healthy body being slowly abused by drug poisoning, and she pulls off the role with admirable skill. Their scenes together are truly riveting.
Traynor’s on-screen work comes fairly late in “Game Plan” (although he can be seen very briefly in the early moments in a hilarious moment in a tutoring session when he is struggling in vain to piece together the sum of two plus two). It would be a sin to expose too much of his character’s development since it would spoil much of the film’s effective finale. Let it be sufficient to say that he brings his trademark charm and depth to this particular character, and his female fans will be happy to know that much of his screen time is spent without a shirt.
Fans of Traynor’s films may be somewhat surprised by the level of adult situations and language in “Game Plan.” Some of it is effectively funny, especially when a hooker pulls out a stack of condoms and exclaims the only thing she wants to know from her client is “which flavor and which hole.” And there is also some romantic coupling here which is so intense that watching it makes one feels like a voyeur rather than a viewer. Though in consideration of the warped characters who populate “Game Plan,” it would be strange to give a G-rated screenplay to a world where people turn gluttonous when feeding their depravity.
Cineastes should pay close attention to the final scene, where Traynor pays witty homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant closing shot from his under-appreciated “Topaz” by encapsulating the various machinations of the story into the disposable format of a newspaper which is easily tossed away once the tale has run its course and attention is required elsewhere. It worked wonderfully for Hitchcock and it works just as well for Traynor.