John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris, Kyle Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Michael C. Hall, Danny Huston, Chelsea Peretti
R for language, sexual references and some violence
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Cinema history is filled with clever concepts that don’t work well in execution. Game Night is one of those rare exceptions with a neat idea that’s carefully executed and hilarious in all the right spots.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play hyper-competitive couple Max and Annie whose traditional game night is interrupted by the sudden return of Max’s even more competitive brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Brooks has arranged a game night to rival theirs, hiring a mystery staging company to plan a fun event, but which turns dangerous when an unexpected faction arrives and kidnaps Brooks for real. As Max and Annie struggle with the realization that things are much more dire than they appear, they and their friends embark on a raucous cross-city adventure to save Brooks and keep his would-be killers at bay.
Comedy has so many different styles, it’s a challenge to find one that works best; however, Bateman has done stellar work picking projects that uniquely fit his brand of comedy: straight-faced routines built into outrageous situations. Easily his equal, Rachel McAdams hasn’t had as much success finding great projects, but her work here is just as impressive.
Together, the pair are joined by an array of skilled actors whose histories haven’t always been in this realm. Lamorne Morris (New Girl) and Sharon Horgan (The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret) have plenty of experience in comedy while Billy Magnussen (As the World Turns) and Kylie Bunbury (Under the Dome) are better known for their dramatic work. Meanwhile, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemmons, Michael C. Hall, and Danny Huston have been adept at all manner of genres.
To their credit, directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have brought screenwriter Mark Perez’s concept to the screen with great energy. There seems to be two major schools of thought for how to handle R-rated comedies in recent years. There’s the Paul Feig model that relies heavily on fast-paced, joke-a-minute deliveries and there’s the slow-burn, lingering joke style that Daley and Goldstein employ. They aren’t concerned with moving from one joke to the next without giving it time to hit the audience with precision. The humor is delivered in small doses, allowing the story to build and the viewer to invest themselves while savoring each bit before moving on. The comedy here isn’t always quick in delivery, but it’s always pointedly engaging.
Mix into the comedy a plot that asks us to explore whether a hyper-competitive spirit is more damaging than helpful and an answer that isn’t explicit or necessarily all-encompassing and you have a film that has many merits and few flaws.
A well-written sequel to Game Night would be a most welcome event; however, caution is urged. When films like Horrible Bosses decided to bring us back to the characters and situations we loved, they did it with imprecision and a lack of care, forcing the audience to experience a poorly developed and weakly derivative sequel. Here, it would be most important to continue the dynamic without changing the formula dramatically or trying to one-up everything that happened here. Sometimes, the best comedy is just more antics, not bigger ones.
May 1, 2018