Take the Night (Photos: Saban Films)

By Matt Brunson

★★½ (out of four)
STARS Seth McTigue, Roy Huang

The game “20 Questions” is played in a different manner when it comes to the indie thriller Take the Night. When this picture ends, viewers will have at least 20 questions to ask regarding the plot particulars of what they just saw. Fortunately, there’s enough of merit in this film to earn it a mild recommendation.

Take the Night is the first feature-length acting, directing, writing, and producing credit for Seth McTigue, and one would be forgiven for initially believing this was a low-budget remake of David Fincher’s 1997 drama The Game. That’s because both focus on a humorless workaholic whose estranged brother plans an elaborate — and potentially dangerous — ruse for his birthday. The similarity is enough for eyebrows to arch, but Take the Night quickly swerves off in its own direction.

Robert Chang (Sam Song Li) is the youthful head of a major international conglomerate left to him by his late father. His older brother William (Roy Huang) resents his position of power but nevertheless works under him in the same office. For Robert’s upcoming birthday, William decides to hire four men to stage a fake kidnapping and snatch his baby brother. For the job, he unwittingly acquires four career criminals, who of course kidnap Robert for real. Two of the quartet are Chad (McTigue) and Todd (Brennan Keel Cook), brothers who argue almost as much as Robert and William. The remaining crooks are Justin (Antonio Aaron), who, like Chad, suffers from PTSD, and Shannon (Shomari Love), who’s given a backstory and featured in a couple of early scenes, only to curiously become largely irrelevant for the duration of the film.

Seth McTigue in Take the Night

The questions pile up immediately. Why did William think a fake kidnapping was a sound choice for a birthday present? In The Game, Sean Penn’s wayward brother used this “gift” to force Michael Douglas’ grim banker to come out of his shell; here, it’s not clear if William was attempting something similar, or was trying to be cruel, or actually thought it was a hilarious gag, or something else.

And what were supposed to be the particulars of the fake kidnapping? The hired actors were supposed to put a bag over Robert’s head, take him to an abandoned warehouse, and … then what? Yes, of course eventually take him to his surprise party, but until then? Keep him bound and gagged for an indefinite amount of time, just sitting there soiling himself? (Happy Birthday!) Get him drunk until he passes out? Untie him and together binge-watch a whole season of Ted Lasso?

This all reaches its crescendo with the final twist, one of those shocking denouements meant to bring to mind the big reveal of Keyser Söze at the end of The Usual Suspects. Here, it’s scarcely credible and handled in a clumsy and unsatisfying manner.

It’s in the director’s chair where McTigue excels. He gives the film a professional sheen, with cinematographer Rainer Lipski doing particularly good work. There are some inspired shot selections that stand out enough to be appreciated but not enough to distract. McTigue also coaxes strong performances out of his cast — there isn’t a weak link in the bunch, with Huang and Li standing out as the bickering brothers.

Indeed, McTigue’s direction is strong and his acting acceptable, meaning it’s his screenplay that primarily requires some tinkering. Still, it’s only the why that needs work, with the who, what, where, and when all handled reasonably well.

(Take the Night is available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Vudu, and other streaming services.)

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