Thanks to its likeable cast and some well-conceived running gags, “Game Night” turns out to be a fun, if uneven, comic romp.
Is it likely to be the funniest film of the year? Hardly – it’s not even as funny as “Horrible Bosses,” the film “Game Night” keeps plugging in its marketing in the hopes of drawing that film’s avid fan base back for more.
But it does have its moments, as well as plenty of twists and “gotcha” moments. You may think you’ve got the film and where its going figured out midway through, but just wait – there should be at least one hard curve you won’t see coming.
What’s it about?
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, husband and wife who fell in love years before thanks to their slightly overdeveloped competitive streaks and love of games and trivia.
The couple’s weekly trivia night with friends Ryan (Billy Magnussen), Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) gets kicked up a notch when Max’s popular older brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes into town and offers to host.
Everyone in the group except Max, who’s never beaten Brooks at anything, jumps at the idea. The excitement builds further when Brooks tells everyone the game is a special murder mystery-style affair, with hired actors, a kidnapping, and potentially a race with an extravagant prize waiting at the end.
Soon enough, someone does break in and kidnap Brooks, dragging him bound and gagged out the front door while everyone else snacks on wine and cheese, and the game’s afoot. Except, well, it’s not a game – Brooks is in real trouble, and the only people that can save him are the ones thinking it’s all part of the show.
All about the running gags
“Game Night” as a film is itself set up like a board game, with pieces moved into position in the early going to propel running gags that later keep the film engaging. The film’s charm comes from the fact that many of those set-ups should resonate with audiences who enjoy game and trivia nights.
The script also provides opportunities for the entire cast to provide laughs. Though Bateman and McAdams get most of the screen time and share cute chemistry, the best gags belong to the supporting cast, especially Magnussen and Jesse Plemons, who plays Gary, Max and Annie’s awkward and creepy neighbor who they avoid inviting to their game nights at all costs.
There’s a point about midway “Game Night,” however, when it may seem to audiences like everyone’s in on what’s really going on and the film’s set-up has been unraveled. The temptation will be to assume that from there it’s all just a chase to a predictable finish.
Don’t give in to that temptation. Should you choose to accept the invitation to “Game Night” (and that’s a big ‘if’ with “Black Panther” out in its second week just waiting for a second or third viewing) just sit back, enjoy the hijinks, and don’t assume anything, because just when you think it can’t get any sillier, the cast takes the game to the next level.
Starring Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Chelsea Peretti, Michael C. Hall and Kyle Chandler. Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated R for language, sexual references and some violence.