Directors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston
When I think of game night, I think of a rousing game of Settlers of Catan with friends where I inevitably never seem to get the right resources and lose to my husband. Cocktails may be flowing, but that wouldn’t make for a lively movie. Lucky for us, it never reaches the height of what occurs in Game Night. Serious gamers Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) met at trivia night at their local bar and fell in love after being on opposing teams. Years later they’re now married, trying to grow their family, and are known for their game nights with other couples. Joining them are dimwitted playboy Ryan (Magnusson), his random date du jour, and long-time couple Kevin (Morris) and Michelle (Bunburry). Jesse Plemons also appears as their oddball neighbor Gary, a police officer who is desperate to be invited back to game night following his divorce.
Max is feeling a bit stressed with the news that his brother, Brooks (Chandler), is planning on visiting. There’s a sibling rivalry for Max that dates back as Brooks has always been the popular, good-looking brother who has everything in life. He’s even idolized by Max’s game night friends. Brooks arrives in town with his usual fanfare and insists on hosting the next game night. Max and Annie relent their traditional hosting duties and show up hoping for a peaceful, but somewhat competitive night of Scrabble or Charades. Brooks informs the group that he’s taken game night to the next level with a murder mystery style game where a group of actors will arrive and take someone hostage. It’s up to the rest of them to solve the riddles and find the kidnapped victim. Men in masks and FBI uniforms arrive taking Brooks hostage. What should be an innocent game turns a bit more dangerous when the gang realizes the kidnappers were not the planned actors, and Brooks has now gone missing.
The poster for the film mentions it’s from “the guys that brought you Horrible Bosses.” Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein wrote that film along with Spider-Man: Homecoming and that dreadful Vacation reboot. Here they’re solely in the director’s chair working off a script by Mark Perez (Accepted, Herbie Fully Loaded). This film feels in tune with Horrible Bosses and comedies like Office Christmas Party, Rough Night, or The Hangover. Oftentimes the innocent characters find themselves in peril when the night escalates from bad to worse. It’s a pretty easy setup where the jokes typically feel used up about an hour in. Game Night may just surprise you as Perez’s script is consistently funny from start to finish. The three main couples find themselves separated working to solve the game in pairs while figuring out how to save Brooks. Given the murder mystery angle, the writing is pretty clever keeping the audience guessing along the way as if they’re playing the game with the characters. I never knew who could be trusted or who was in on the game given the fact that the Ryan’s latest date Sarah (Horgan) is essentially new to the group, Brooks is the wild and crazy one, and Officer Gary acts completely off putting petting his white fluffy dog like he’s Bond villain Blofeld. The story spirals into zany fun with a few other tricks up its sleeve that I did not see coming. I guess that makes me a bad player, but speaks of Daley and Goldstein’s efforts to keep us entertained without peaking into obnoxious territory too early.
I wouldn’t mind having a game night with this cast many of whom I associate with television and film work, which makes a difference in how they approach their characters. Jason Bateman, who also starred in Horrible Bosses and Office Christmas Party, can play this kind of role in his sleep. He plays into his usual type where he’s the no-nonsense guy, always a little ticked off about something. I applaud Bateman for never making Max a complete jerk, like he’s done with other characters. He makes you understand Max’s apprehensions and the frustrations he has with Brooks. As Brooks, Kyle Chandler goes completely outside his comfort zone. I’m so used to him in heavy dramas like Carol, Zero Dark Thirty, or his iconic role as Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights. It’s a treat to see him let loose and play this kind of a wild card. Fans of FNL will enjoy the reunion between him and Jesse Plemons who’s also coming off a string of heavier roles. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the scene-stealing Billy Magnusson who garners huge laughs playing the dopey pretty boy.
Game Night has an adult sense of humor that feels surprisingly fresh and creative throughout rarely relying on gross-out gags or raunchy sex jokes to keep it going. It would have been easy to take these characters and thrust them into a strip club, sex shop, or do something banal like that, but it constantly tries to stay above the standard schlock we get from the types of movies that I mentioned earlier. The film was cast wisely utilizing actors primarily known for dramatic roles. I never once got the impression that they were mugging for the camera or trying to play a caricature, which is another default I often see in this comedy sub-genre. I went in expecting a dumb comedy with a few laughs here or there, yet found myself taken by surprise at just how well it was all coming together. Yes, it has its absurd and cringe-worthy moments, but uses them sparingly as to not completely lose sight of the loving bond between Max and Annie and the camaraderie at hand for these friends.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Game Night offers enough hearty laughs to take your mind off the rest of life’s troubles.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS