It’s criminal, really. Why bring in the dude known for broad, sprawling epics like “Shane” and “Giant” to direct your movie only to relegate the poor guy to the claustrophobic confines of a stuffy Las Vegas apartment for two long-seeming hours?
That’s the situation director George Stevens is faced with in “The Only Game in Town,” a desolate dramedy that reunites Stevens with Elizabeth Taylor for a third go. Screenwriter Frank D. Gilroy adapts his 1968 Broadway bomb for the big screen here, with similarly spiritless results. Gilroy’s first stage-to-screen adaptation was the Pulitzer-winning “The Subject Was Roses.” This time the subject is monotony.
Given its talky script, stagey set-pieces and Stevens’ propensity to shoot his actors in extreme close-up, there’s no mistaking “Only Game” is based on a play. It details the rocky romance between Sin City showgirl Fran (Taylor) and a down-and-out pianist/craps-addict named Joe (Warren Beatty, three years removed from “Bonnie & Clyde”). Despite being played by immensely appealing actors, these two just aren’t very likable company.
The duo prattle and prod each other from one end of the picture to the next. Gilroy tries his hardest to convince us that pairing these two is precisely the step necessary to break one another out of their doldrums, but I ain’t buying. If anything, their ceaseless squabbling is precisely the sort of toxic behavior that should be driving them apart (not the craziest of considerations, I might add).
The stars are not the issue here. Taylor is miscast as a showgirl (no offense, Liz, but you’re about 15 years too old), but she and Beatty are equal-opportunity squabblers — shades of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” remain. No, the real culprit here is Gilroy’s chatty, lackluster script. It’s clear Gilroy wants us to root for these two to piece their lives together and put Las Vegas in the rear-view, but all I kept thinking was how much of a bummer it was seeing Cleopatra and Clyde Barrow being reduced to apathetic pawns in this melodramatic muck.
“THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN”
Rated: M for mild language
Director: George Stevens
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Warren Beatty
★½ (out of ★★★★)