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Sigh. Another one of THESE movies.

by Andrew Green

Today I have for you a movie that doesn't even live up to its name.

Funny Games (2007)

Netflix description:

"Anna (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) are enjoying a vacation with their son when a pair of sadistic young men, Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet), breaks into their cabin and holds the family hostage. The psychotic duo plays twisted games with their prisoners, forcing them to comply to stay alive. Director Michael Haneke remakes his chilling 1997 German-language film as an indictment of the media's fascination with violence."

OK, so I was excited to see this one because I'd heard from multiple sources that it was disturbingly violent. Two mysterious 20-somethings break into a rich couple's home, and proceed to torture them in horrifying ways. Sounds interesting to me. Plus, the film features actor Michael Pitt, whose work I have enjoyed in the past (he deftly played a semi-fictionalized Kurt Cobain in Gus Van Sant's Last Days a few years back, and seems to have a knack for picking interesting, outside-the-mainstream sorts of projects, in general). Funny Games is a remake of a controversial German movie, and I was curious to see how it would translate into an American setting. However, when I finally got my hands on a copy, I was disappointed.

Where to begin? Well, first of all, the violence isn't REALLY all that shocking. I've seen far worse. I'm not sure what all of the uproar was about, considering that the yuppie couple here mostly just gets beaten with a golf club (and, let's face it, they probably deserved it, anyway). Sure, a rifle eventually comes into the picture, but really, it's not like they're being mutilated or anything. Plus, the two young men who victimize our "heroes" are hardly all that scary. They're, like, 140 pounds each, and look as if they belong in a Saved By The Bell episode. Being attacked by these guys would be about as scary as being attacked by two of me. No self-respecting family man would let himself be pushed around by such losers.

And that's where my real gripe lies. The main problem I had with Funny Games was simply that I can't believe how dumb the main characters are. The victims in this film display a shocking inability to defend themselves on multiple occasions. When Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet first let loose, all they've got is a golf club. One of them hits the husband in the knee with it, and the whole family crumbles. They're held hostage for the rest of the night while these two punks do as they please.

The poor, sheltered yuppie couple is so helpless that they can't even defend themselves against two wimpy 20 year-olds with a piece of sports equipment. At certain points, it becomes downright absurd -- like when the torturers actually LEAVE THE VICTIMS ALONE in the house for about an hour, and these idiots STILL can't escape. They find a cell phone, and the wife asks her husband, "Who should I call?" Are you serious? When she realizes, to her horror, that the cell phone battery is dead, the woman and her husband basically give up. They're in the OWN house, and can't figure out how to escape, even when left totally alone. I mean, it's not like they're tied up. Even their ten-year-old son figures out eventually that the windows can be opened, and gets out that way. I cheered him for abandoning his braindead parents. Time to find a new life, kid....

Anyway, it occurs to me that perhaps the entire point of this film is to comment on the helplessness of the modern upper class. The comfort to which such people have become accustomed has rendered them unable to fend for themselves in even a slightly threatening situation (I'm reminded of the Simpsons episode in which Lisa wishes away all violence, enabling Martian invaders to conquer the Earth using slingshots and two-by-fours). If this was the aim of director Michael Heneke, then I suppose he has made an effective movie. Even if that 's not the case, though, I DO have to give Funny Gamesat least a little credit for reminding us that the insane and violent don't always make their true nature so obvious. Someone who seems perfectly harmless can be a serious danger. The film also inspires us to ponder the concept of modern gated communities -- if these folks had lived in a normal neighborhood, they wouldn't have been trapped so easily in their own homes. In an attempt to be safe, they've boxed themselves in.

All in all, there is little about Funny Games to make it a worthwhile experience. It might get you thinking a bit, but there are far better films that address the same issues.

2 out of 5.