On the morning of the opening of his newest, most personal work — an opening that happens to coincide with Game 6 of the World Series — playwright Nicky Rogan (Michael Keaton) sails Homerically through New York on a fleet of cabs, trying to fend off mythical monsters and skirt bad omens.
The Mets are playing the Red Sox, and Nicky, a lifelong New Yorker, is a Red Sox fan. The reviewer assigned to his play is the famously acerbic and hard-to-please Steven Schwimmer (Robert Downey Jr.), whose mug, coyly photographed from behind a magazine, appears to be peering out of every taxi ad space in town. Nicky's daughter, Laurel (Ari Graynor), is intent on warning him about her mother's conversations with "a prominent divorce lawyer." His good friend and colleague Elliott Litvak (Griffin Dunne), permanently reduced to jelly by one of Schwimmer's reviews, makes it increasingly hard for Nicky to remain his usual blithe, what-me-worry self. Finally, he finds himself caught unexpectedly in an asbestos snowstorm, the kind of thing Don DeLillo has described elsewhere as an "airborne toxic event."
DeLillo wrote the screenplay, based on his novel, so it comes as no surprise that everything that happens to Nicky is freighted with significance and indicative of his internal state. As much as I enjoy it on the page, the mathematical symmetry and stylized dialogue of DeLillo's prose isn't as suited to film as it is to the stage, though director Michael Hoffman and art director Kate Aronsson Brown perfectly capture the post-punk, Reagan-era gloominess of 1980s New York. And Downey is predictably playful and wry as a reclusive theater critic living a monastic life in a secret lair, disguising himself à la Ruth Reichl (only more ineffectively) when going to the theater.
Stuck in absurd traffic over the course of the day in a series of cabs — Nicky used to be a cabdriver, and all his cabbies, it seems, used to be lawyers, heads of neurosurgery, etc., in their native countries — Nicky grows ever more nervous about the impending performance, review and game, a train of thought that eventually lands him at the critic's house with a gun in his hand.
The plot spins off its earthbound orbit somewhat earlier, drifting for a while in deep metaphor — the game as life, the game of life, etc. — when Nicky lets a cabbie named Toyota (Lillias White) mistake him for a famous mobster and decides to skip the play and instead invite her and her little grandson (Amir Ali Said) to eat burgers and watch the game at a local bar. The three ponder whether Nicky's devotion to the Red Sox might not be an attraction to failure itself. The ever-earthy Downey grounds things at the last minute.
Small and intimate, "Game 6" is a meditation on American theater and the Great American Pastime that hovers above the surface of reality but never quite takes off, either.
MPAA rating: R for some language and sexuality
Released by Kindred Media Group. Director Michael Hoffman. Screenplay Don DeLillo, based on his novel. Producers Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne, Leslie Urdang, Christina Weiss Lurie. Director of photography David M. Dunlap. Editor Camilla Toniolo. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.
At One Colorado Cinemas, 42 Miller Alley (inside plaza, Fair Oaks at Union Avenue), Pasadena (626) 744-1224; Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd. at Fairfax Avenue (323) 655-4010Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times