Game Night takes a familiar set-up and turns it on its head, delivering some big laugh-out-loud moments in the process.
February 23, 2018
Game Night is a comedy of such extreme highs and lows, if you plotted it on a graph it would look like the EKG of a heart attack victim. It's a film with some outstanding moments, as well as some truly awful ones. It's got terrific characters alongside characters so thin and underdeveloped they barely feel like characters at all. It takes a familiar setup, only to dispense with it far sooner than you'd expect. It is, in short, an epic mixed bag, one that some will regard as a disappointing film with redeeming qualities, and others as a great farce let down by its weaker moments. Neither perspective is strictly unfair, but the latter perhaps feels closer to the mark – especially since the film never pretends to be anything more than what it is.
Game Night is directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the same duo responsible for both the awful Vacation reboot and the surprisingly funny Horrible Bosses series. It stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as Max and Annie, two competitive trivia nerds who fall in love via their mutual love of games and who, once married, host regular game nights for their friends (Lamorne Morris, Billy Magnussen and Kylie Bunbury). Things go awry, however, when Max's older, more handsome and definitely more successful brother Brooks (Friday Night Lights star Kyle Chandler) returns home and raises the stakes by hosting a kidnap game in the vein of a murder-mystery night.
The twist? Brooks gets kidnapped for real right in front of them and the players have absolutely no idea. The scenes that follow centre almost exclusively on that easy source of dramatic irony, with the characters bumbling around absent any idea of how much danger they're in. But, as we mentioned above, Game Night shows its cards on that front before things get too tired, and instead invents newer, fresher story threads to carry things forward.
Performance wise it's all very familiar territory for Bateman, playing the outwardly-polite, inwardly-screaming suburbanite he's inhabited ever since Arrested Development. McAdams is similarly likeable if also largely unchallenged, saving her best stuff for the film's few (relatively) serious moments. We also get some fun cameos from the likes of Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall and Sharon Horgan – although the scene-stealer award goes to Jesse Plemons, whose creepy neighbour character lands a near-perfect laugh-per-line scorecard.
At its best, Game Night is laugh out loud funny, subverting some classic comedy tropes and delivering scores of killer one-liners. On the flip-side, its secondary characters are flat and underwritten (Magnussen's in particular), throwing down the kinds of punchlines you can see coming a mile off. Even so, it's probably one of the better Hollywood black comedies we've seen in the last few years, and ultimately entertains enough to justify the price of admission.