“Game Night” was originally set for release on Feb. 14 before getting pushed back to March 2 and then forward to Feb. 23. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Who does not love a good game night? Break out the old Scrabble board, some markers for Pictionary, maybe even some old fashioned trivia. It is all fun and games, that is, until one of the players with gets beaten half to death and kidnapped by some mask-wearing, gun-toting thugs. “Game Night” is a comedy that takes a friendly, but competitive, group of friends, and straps them in for the most unforgettable game night they will ever have.
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are two lovers destined to be together through their passion for games of all kinds, from charades to “Chutes and Ladders.” Their friends certainly share the same affection, but maybe not their intense need for bragging rights. Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) are high school sweethearts that think they know everything about each other, but a game of “never have I ever” quickly changes that. Their other friend Ryan (Billy Magnussen) is the likable dimwit that always seems to have a different girl under his arm at every game night. This group of casual wine drinkers and amateur sketchers loves getting together to get the competitive juices flowing.
One night, Max’s more successful and better-looking brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes into town wanting to get in on this old fashioned friendly fun. Only his version of game night involves one of the players getting kidnapped by complete strangers and leaving the rest to figure out where that player is, otherwise he or she dies. It is all fake of course, performed by a professional who-done-it gaming agency so no one will really get hurt…right? Let the games begin.
So is it all a game? Or is the danger real? “Game Night” does a great job of making the audience think one way, and then making them think another way only to support evidence for what one was thinking in the first place. And then the audience will continue to question themselves until the credits start rolling.
The film is funny when the characters think they are all in on the game, and even funnier when things start to get serious. Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (recent writers on “Spiderman: Homecoming”) do a phenomenal job of putting the audience in these tense, almost edge of one’s seat, situations, and often that is where the comedy masterfully comes in. For example, one of the characters had a loaded gun that they thought was a prop, waving it in the air all willy-nilly in the faces of genuinely scared strangers. Then said character decided to stop for an impromptu selfie, sticking the barrel of the gun directly into their mouth. There is also a cringe-inducing, gut-busting scene involving the amateur removal of a flesh-pierced bullet using merely a pocket knife and some chardonnay.
Jason Bateman is funny as always, though this is the role the audience has seen him in dozens of times before. Rachel McAdams, on the other hand, is a bit disappointing here as she seems a lot less comfortable than the rest of the cast. Her performance and the laughs that come from her character can feel a little forced at times. The rest of the cast is actually really enjoyable, especially Lamorne Morris whom it was nice to see as a truly grounded supporting character, as he is used to being on television and in smaller film roles.
The cast is great, but what is immensely impressive is the two directors on the film. Daley and Goldstein can actually shoot an action scene, and shoot it like they are filming an action movie. It was truly a surprise, especially with their last disaster of a movie, “Vacation.” The kidnapping scene near the beginning is done so well, one might forget that they were watching a comedy until the movie cuts back to the clueless competitors who are less interested in the assault and more interested in the Gouda.
This smart balance of action and comedy is what ultimately makes this film worth recommending. It is not perfect with the forced jokes and the overextension of an ending, but there are plenty of laughs and a fun ride to be had. At the very least, it can confidently be said that this is 2018’s first solid comedy.