Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler & Jesse Plemons
Directed by: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: March 2018
Running Time: 110 mins
Synopsis: Max and Annie’s weekly game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s brother Brooks arranges a murder mystery party – complete with fake thugs and federal agents. So when Brooks gets kidnapped, it’s all supposed to be part of the game. As the competitors set out to solve the case, they start to learn that neither the game nor Brooks are what they seem to be. The friends soon find themselves in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn over the course of one chaotic night.
Directed by the writers of Horrible Bosses, Game Night has that same vein of dark humour running through it as a group of couples inadvertently get involved in a kidnapping during a murder mystery evening. While the situation is played for laughs, there is a grittiness to the film at times that helps accentuate the grim humour and gives some weigh to the actions of the core characters. The plot undergoes plenty of twists and turns throughout, and while the character’s initial obliviousness to the danger of their situation is what drives the first act, there are multiple reveals that change the narrative of the film throughout its runtime. Without wanting to spoil too much, the film often reminded me of the classic Michael Douglas movie, The Game, but with a comedic slant.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams star as ultra-competitive quizzing couple, Max and Annie, and it is their love for games that brings them together with their friends every weekend for a Games Night. Bateman plays his typical sardonic lead role, with Max coming across as somewhat of a cross between his parts in Horrible Bosses and Arrested Development. He does deadpan extraordinarily well, although he doesn’t get the opportunity to develop the character beyond exasperated and flustered. McAdams is more of a revelation to me, and she did a tremendous job at balancing out Bateman’s aloofness. Not only was she funny in her own right – the scene where she had to perform emergency first aid using instructions from her phone was hilarious – but she was a believable wife to Bateman’s character.
While I wasn’t familiar with the actors who played the other two couples, they did a brilliant job at supporting the main cast. I was particularly amused by Lamone Morris and Kylie Bunbury, who played high-school sweethearts Kevin and Michelle. After discovering Michelle had slept with a celebrity during a “break”, Kevin becomes obsessed with discovering who it is and the eventual revelation (and the twist) was pitch-perfect. I also loved Jesse Plemons as the creepy loner neighbour, Gary, who had been alienated from the group ever since his wife left him. Plemons easily stole the show in all of the scenes he appeared in, evoking a weird method-actor vibe to him. He is a tremendous actor – his work as Todd in Breaking Bad and El Camino is testament to that, but I loved this transition to comedy and how he can play both ‘scary-creepy’ and ‘funny-creepy’, if the need arises.
Obviously the most important element of a comedy is whether the jokes are funny or not, and while there are some moments that don’t land (the awkward scene in the fertility clinic), there are some great set-pieces that made me laugh out loud (the box on the conveyor belt). Tonally, the film certainly shares the same DNA as Horrible Bosses and often tips its toes into taboo waters with its morally ambiguous characters. There is an edginess to the film that I really like and the darker humour helps the film stand out from the glossier, light-hearted offerings out there. The film subverts expectations from the outset, and I was surprised at how quickly it dropped the “characters don’t realise events are real” premise. I’d expected it to last almost the whole movie, when in fact, it is only really a fraction of the plot. This is great as I feel it would have stretched credibility too much to have these intelligent characters oblivious to the truth for the whole film.
As fun as the film is, the plot does suffer from a few issues as it seems like the majority of the film involves driving from place to place in a scavenger hunt. The central mystery surrounding the kidnapping becomes somewhat convoluted mid-way through the film, although I loved the surprise reveal of who the ringleader was and was disappointed that the actor wasn’t in the film for longer as he plays the charming psychopath role extremely well. The film also manages to incorporate some genuine character development for its couples and Bateman’s dickish brother, allowing each of the participants the opportunity for some personal growth. Game Night not only succeeds as a comedy, but it also works as a mystery too, with plenty of twists and turns to the plot that genuinely had me and my wife fooled.
On paper, Game Night could easily be a light-hearted farce that leans towards broader comedy but directors John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein manage to maintain their penchant for dark humour throughout. Fans of the Horrible Bosses franchise will certainly recognise and enjoy the ‘gallows humour’ of Game Night, and there are plenty of genuine belly laughs to be found in the film. Refreshingly bold and extremely well-written, Game Night is one of the funnier Hollywood comedies in recent years and manages to weave in a compelling plot amidst the self-fellatio jokes. It might not achieve classic status, but I highly recommend checking out Game Night for your movie night.