Game Night March 5, 2018
John Francis Daley
Michael C. Hall
1 Hr., 33 Mins.
onathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley’s Game Night (2018) is such a good caper movie that I’m partial to comparing it to other genre classics like Charade (1963), Foul Play (1978), and A Fish Called Wanda (1988). All these films made for surprisingly congruent genre composites. The laughs would come steadily, but so would a concrete sense of adventure that would arise from the criminal nonsense behind everything else. Also
linking these films together is the fact that I, along with most of the public, lapped them up.
Game Night is no exception. As I took it in while lounging in a recliner seat at a nearby AMC a couple evenings ago, I drifted back and forth between sometimes loud fits of laughter and a big grin. For its 93 minutes, I was in a sort of trance, taken aback by the consistency of the comedic set pieces and the aptitude of the action sequences. It does exactly what a popcorn movie should: keep us happily treading water in an ocean of diversion without undermining our intelligence or losing our interest.
The storyline is a humdinger, and it’s a wonder that screenwriter Mark Perez never allows it to lose sight of its initial potential. The movie respectively stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as Max and Annie, 30-something competitive gamers trying to refine a more serious part of their lives: domesticity.
Having apparently conquered their professional ambitions, both are ready to have children after years of putting such an aspiration off. Thanks to Max’s struggles with anxiety, though, conception has been difficult. And this isn’t helped by the fact that his more handsome, more successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) is coming to town. All Max’s life, his elder sibling’s made him feel inferior and small, and to have to deal with that again after almost a year apart isn’t going to be easy.
As expected, Brooks’s reintegration is shaky. Max and Annie invite him over for a game night with their friends, and the night is predictably full of embarrassing stories and attempts to make Max look bad. This is topped at the end of the gathering when Brooks invites everyone over for his own game night at the mansion he’s renting out while in town. Subtly saying that what Max and Annie offered was underwhelming, Brooks promises his shindig will be a true blue night to remember.
And the ensuing event, which happens just a couple days later, really is – just maybe not in the ways Brooks might have intended. Upon the arrival of his guests, which also include a handful of Max and Annie’s pals (Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Billy Magnussen, and Sharon Horgan), Brooks announces that the festivities of the night will take on the form of a rather prestige murder mystery simulation. He’s hired the interactive role-playing company Murder, We Wrote to stage a faux murder that the guests will compete to solve. Such is simple until it isn’t anymore: turns out that Brooks is a criminal in over his head. Right as the simulation starts, he is kidnapped – and all his guests aren’t so sure what exactly is part of the game and what exactly is really happening.
What follows is an absurd albeit wickedly funny comedy thriller, sometimes resembling David Fincher’s The Game (1997) in the way it turns structural deception into an art. But here, I was less focused on all the twists thrown my way (though they are pretty spotlessly executed) and more on how exquisitely almost every one of the extended comic sequences is designed and delivered. Goldstein, Daley, and Perez find a delectable middle ground between old-fashioned slapstick, cringe comedy, and action-movie overkill. The actors are so effortlessly funny, we almost forget how difficult it is to act in a comedy where much of the laughs are supposed to seem accidental. (McAdams is particularly great here — a nü-Carole Lombard.)
We’re quick to want to consider movies like Game Night throwaway. The film itself is essentially supposed to be a comedy we use and abuse for somewhere north of 90 minutes, likely to forget it a short while after departing the theater. But while watching it, I couldn’t help but treasure it: in our cynical times, something as comedically immaculate and comprehensively fun as Game Night feels necessary. A-
This review also appeared on Verge Campus.