GAME NIGHT ½
2018, R, 100 mins.
Rachel McAdams as Annie / Jason Bateman as Max / Kyle Chandler as Brooks / Billy Magnussen as Ryan / Sharon Horgan as Sarah / Lamorne Morris as Kevin / Kylie Bunbury as Michelle / Jesse Plemons as Gary / Jeffrey Wright as FBI Agent / Danny Huston as Donald Anderton / Chelsea Peretti as Glenda
Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein / Written by Mark Perez
I love having game nights myself. I play a mean game of Pictionary, and usually get very caught up in the singular pleasure of getting a teammate to properly guess what I'm drawing, especially when it's more obscure.
I do, however, remember vividly when I was given a "cyclops" to draw, and seeing as a minored in Fine Art in university I thought that this would be a slam dunk. I mean, who doesn't know what a cyclops is? Unfortunately for me, my somewhat dimwitted teammates spent the next minutes spouting out answers like "ONE EYED MAN!" or "MAN WITH ONE EYE!" or "ONE EYED JACKS!"
lost the game. It was enough to make my blood boil.
I've mellowed in the years following that, by my zealot-like passion for winning on game night still has a stranglehold on me. Watching the new side-splittingly funny and smartly written comedy GAME NIGHT brought back some instant memories for me. It concerns a couple - winningly played with remarkable comedic chemistry by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams - that had an awfully cute, well, meet-cute during a local trivia night at a nearby watering hole and became instantly smitten with each others' respective desire to dominate their opponents. Their penchant for weekly game nights with their close friends takes a macabre turn for the worse when it turns into a real life murder mystery.
Part of the pleasure of watching GAME NIGHT is that it utilizes a
superlatively assembled cast that are all given individual chances to
shine and score healthy zingers. Beyond
that, the John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein directed effort gets a
considerable amount of perversely amusing mileage out of its inspired
premise of a bunch of clueless gamers expecting a faux murder mystery
party, but instead are thrust into the real thing.
At around 100 minutes, this film never overstays its welcome,
mostly because its shrewd scripting keeps the laughs flowing while it
hurtles these poor saps down some deceptively sinister twists and turns.
It's very hard for a comedy to mix hearty guffaws with violence and
bloodshed, but this one does so admirably.
aforementioned couple in question are Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams),
both of whom still maintain a healthy - if not bordering on a tad
obsessive - shared bond of being ultra competitive during their weekly
game nights with their BFFs. They
have to work overtime, though, to ensure that their creepily nosey neighbor,
Gary (Jesse Plemons), doesn't know of their game nights, seeing as the baby
faced cop has just recently gone through a divorce and is a real bummer on
the social scene. Gary, like
all good police officers, can smell when something's false, and one night
he catches Max and Annie coming home with a bunch of groceries
that clearly hints that company is coming over.
They're poor liars and tell the hapless schmuck that they're not
having a game night, to which he asks about the multiple bags of Tostitos
in their grocery bag. They
pathetically insist that the store was having a 3 for 1 sale, which leads
to Gary hilariously deadpaning with poker faced seriousness, "How would
that be good for the Frito-Lay company?"
This is just a small taste of GAME NIGHT's razor sharp writing from
Max Perez, who generates big laughs in the most inconsequential of scenes.
Anyhoo', Max and
Annie are in fact having their friends over for game night, which includes
the dim witted and skirt chasing Ryan (Billy Magnussen), his date Sarah
(Sharon Morgan) and couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie
semi-estranged older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) also shows up, who
seemingly has everything in life that his baby sibling doesn't - vast
wealth, a luxurious home, and a dream car from Max's past. Brooks has something more devious in mind other than charades
or Monopoly: He has hired an organized group of murder mystery actors that
will involve one of them being kidnapped and a slew of clues being left
behind for them to solve. The
prize for the night is his Corvette.
Thugs do break into the home, infiltrate the party, and kidnap
Brooks, during which time he pleads with his brother and their friends
that it's all real and not part of the planned event, but everyone
dismissively shrugs their shoulders at his insistence that his attack wasn't
fake...mostly because they were told that everything would look
as authentic as possible. Even
though it's revealed that his kidnapping was no joke, Max, Annie and their
friends laugh it up and follow clues, initially failing to realize that
they're putting their own lives in danger.
madcap plot in any more detail would obviously devolve into heavy
spoilers, but let's just say that - through the course of everyone's
twisted evening - the hapless and in-over-their-heads friends are chased on foot and
in car and are shot at, not to mention that a small dog - at one macabre
point - gets doused in the blood
of one of them (the pouch also drinks it), and, later on, one bad guy gets sucked
into a jet turbine and is turned into shredded meat.
Oh, and throughout all of this rampant madness Michelle is forced
to come to grips with Kevin that she once slept with Denzel Washington
during a brief period when they were apart (or...did she?).
There's a remarkably hilarious bit involving poor Max being
accidentally shot in the arm because of Annie's negligence with what she
assumes is a prop gun (it turns out to be the real thing).
The moment that involves her trying to extract the bullet out of her
hubbie's arm using convenience store tweezers, rubber gloves, and a dog
squeaky toy (for him to bite on for the pain) is one of the funniest
scenes I've seen in an awfully long time.
She reads through bullet extraction instructions on her phone after
crafty writing here seems to be tailored made for Bateman's dry
underplaying of verbal zingers (his laid back comedic approach served him
well in HORRIBLE BOSSES, also
directed by Daley and Goldstein). Bateman
always has this knack of seeming like he's one smart step ahead of
everyone else in the movie while making bone headed mistakes on his own.
He's flawlessly matched with McAdams, whose spunky charisma leads
to some of the movie's best give and take dialogue exchanges with her
increasingly disturbed husband throughout their hellish night.
Thankfully, and as mentioned, the supporting cast are all given
their moments to shine too, especially Magnussen's infectious stupidity or
Morris' inspired gift for celebrity mimicry (ironically, he does a very
inspired Denzel Washington impression during one tense scene with
Michelle, only later to find out they she slept with the Oscar winning
actor...or...did she?). The
real performance standout is Plemons as his unnervingly serious beat cop
with severe attachment issues to Max and Annie, and watching him fully
deep dive commit to his role by playing it with a tough marriage of
weirdness and solemnity - and all without going for broad laughs at his
character's expense - gives the film some dark edginess.