By Alec Deacon
”This isn’t a game Max! I’m telling you this is all real!”
At first glance Game Night might appear like just another lazy ensemble comedy that rolls out every once in a while, where a bunch of well-to-do middle-class suburban socialites end up in some madcap situation after a normal night of fun turns into a series of ridiculous coincidences. We’re spies for a night, the stripper is dead and so on, Game Night however, delivers a lot more than anyone probably expected.
With a style and a feel which means it could fit right at home in the good old days of the 1980s ‘high-concept’ genre, Game Night is only missing a nostalgic Touchstone Pictures logo as the cherry on the cake. All this makes it very fitting that Jason Bateman a former 80s teen star who began his career playing, among other things, Michael J. Fox’s ‘cousin’ in 1987’s Teen Wolf Too, a good choice to co-lead with Rachel McAdams.
The set –up is as follows, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a happily married couple who love games, all types of games, from trivia, charades, the board varieties, you name it and they like to host a weekly game night with their friends, a squabbling husband and wife, Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) and Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and the eternally stupid, good-looking guy Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and Ryan’s girlfriend of the week played by Sharon Horgan.
Jason Bateman has, along with a strong desire to win every game night he and McAdams host, a perpetual state at feeling inferior to his older, cooler, brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who is always just a bit better at just about everything.
While in the midst of their weekly Game Night, Chandler arrives with a new car, a big ego and a proposition: the game is on him and it is going to be a Game Night the friends will never forget. So with game night crashed by Bateman’s multi-millionaire the couple’s favourite night of the week is turned into a nightmare. Chandler has hired a company that creates a realistic role playing game, yes think David Fincher’s The Game (1997) and gets kidnapped by criminals, but real ones… or does he? And then the action begins.
McAdams deserves high praise as Annie, whether it is in comedic situations or just in interactions between her and on-screen husband Jason Bateman, she does a stellar job of selling her character’s competitive nature with on-point comedy timing, something McAdams has shown a proficiency for as far back as Mean Girls (2004) but not really had chance to showcase it.
Someone else of note, who will no-doubt be everyone’s favourite, and who could quite possible demand a film all of his own is that of Bateman and McAdams very creepy next-door neighbour, Gary (Jesse Plemons), a police officer who carries his fluffy dog everywhere and always in uniform. Gary desperately wants to be included in Game Night but never gets an invite. Plemons plays Gary with over-the-top seriousness with that off-beat, unsettling and somewhat morbid humour that not everyone will get, but carries the plot in its more serious moments.
John Daley and Jonathan Goldstein direct the movie superbly, far and away redeeming themselves after the less than amazing Horrible Bosses (2011) and the reboot of National Lampoon’s Vacation (2015) (but did fare better in 2017 with their script for Marvel’s Spider-man: Homecoming). There is a one particularly well shot scene that demonstrates their high level of proficiency that would not typically be expected from a comedy of this nature. It also highlights that Daley and Goldstein are possibly better directors than they are writers.
The plot is more intriguing and mysterious than one might otherwise have thought it would be, with twists one might think they can see coming but could possibly throw the audience a curve ball instead. The progression of the game parallels with the growth of characters is well done and as the night goes on, they begin to understand how they relate to each other, and why they care about each other.
This dark comedy mystery is not as slick as say your, Kiss Kiss Bang Bangs (2005) or Big Lebowskis (1998), but it’s got an irreverent charm in a time when comedy movies compromise too much on brains and craft for basic lowest common denominator toilet humour. Game Night has a charismatic cast, stylish direction, standout design, along with great cinematography, a brilliant score and soundtrack with a very sharp script by Mark Perez and moments of genuine unexpected emotion.
Far from perfection Game Night does lag a little in the second act but never stops being fun and entertaining. Coming in at a brisk 100 minutes it wastes no time in getting going and although you may have seen this kind of formula before, you will not have laughed for as long and as hard in a long time. Game Night delivers on just about every level and even when it dips on some, it is so well crafted you can forgive it those moments if for no other reason you are still laughing at the precious jokes. Repeat value in abundance, I’m game if you are.