Jason Bateman and Rachael McAdams lead an entertaining ensemble of characters in a creative and hilarious studio comedy.
RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)
There are very few things more socially rewarding than a night where mutual friends or family members unite to play games of every variety, including trivia games, card games, and then there are games involving alcohol, which take game nights on a turn for the eventful whether for good or for ill. The possibilities for fun and drama are so endless, it’s confusing as to why it took so long for a movie to be set around this occasion, and Game Night does just that as the newest comedy from John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who in recent years, were at the helm of the Vacation remake and the first Horrible Bosses, and even penned Spider-Man’s entrance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Say what you will about their past work, but Game Night is a well-written dark comedy that thrives on the strength of its ensemble and the crafting of its characters.
Game Night stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as Max and Annie Davis, a married couple whose connection is made through their competitive nature, right down to the games they play on a weekly basis with their circle of friends. These include the airheaded Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who brings a new love interest to the Davis house every week, and high school sweethearts Kevin and Michelle (played by relative newcomers Lamorne Morris and Kylie Burnberry). The story of Game Night begins with Max and Annie preparing for another night of fun and competition, going so far as to keep the festivities from their awkward and monotone cop neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons in a comedic turn), only for Max’s rich and successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) to suddenly announce his intention to visit Max from out-of-town and attend game night, where he defeats him in every game they play. Max and Annie are eager to attend the next one when Brooks puts his Corvette Stingray (Max’s dream car) on the line in an elaborate kidnapping simulation game, but what starts out as a real-life puzzle between the circle of friends turns into a fish-out-of-water comedy thriller when Brooks is kidnapped by masked men, upon which, the group sets out to rescue him and win the game, completely unaware of the dangerous situation they’re stumbling onto.
Had Mark Perez’s script found its way into the wrong hands, this movie could have been a comedy over-reliant on gross-out gags, or one that threw every joke at the wall and went with what stuck. But thankfully, Game Night makes the effort of telling a good story and trusting its diverse ensemble with a realistic balance of every sense of humor, and well-crafted characters that have their own arcs and subplots. Max and Annie are trying to have a child to no avail as Max’s desire to succeed compels him to go to incredible lengths to step out of the shadow of his more successful older brother. Meanwhile, Kevin wants to know which celebrity Michelle slept with after she made the proclamation during a game of ‘Never Have I Ever’, and Ryan’s date Sarah (played by British multi-hyphenate Sharon Horgan) wants to learn more about her muscular nimrod co-worker, only to find more disbelief at Ryan’s lack of intelligence with every perfectly-timed blonde moment from Magnussen, who after this and Ingrid Goes West, continues to cement himself as a comedic star on the rise.
The banter between the cast as a whole also hits the right comedic beats, and the situations that the film’s protagonists find themselves in are fresh for the genre; it’s hard not to laugh when Annie has to keep her smartphone unlocked with her nose while learning how to clean a bullet wound, or when Ryan’s attempt at solving Brooks’ kidnapping involves bribing a store employee with an astounding total of seventeen dollars. Something else that sets Game Night apart from most comedies is its creativity from a visual and aural perspective, from the use of a tilt shift camera lens on establishing shots to make houses and cars look like toy pieces on a game board, to the high-angle tracking shots of cars driving down the road reminiscent of a video game, as well as another pulsing synthesizer-based score from Cliff Martinez. These elements help keep the movie’s balance from comedy to thriller stable without ever going too far off the deep end.
All this being said, Game Night does end up going back a few spaces more than once, particularly during a twist near the end that feels too convoluted to buy into totally, and the movie does start off with a scene where McAdams and Bateman deliver quips at a rate of one per second, which poses an early threat of overkill, but that’s quelled once it settles into its entertaining story. Overall, Game Night is a hilarious dark comedy with a great cast of characters, a perfect balance of witty banter with thrilling action sequences, and a unique visual style. If you’re in the mood for a comedy, this one is certainly worth rolling the dice on.