Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are two ultra-competitive who fall in love, become ultra-competitive spouses and surround themselves with similarly competitive friends such as the shallow but adorably goofy Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and the happily married couple of Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) and Kevin (Lamorne Morris) for a weekly game night. When Max's older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) arrives into town flaunting his souped up Stingray, Max gets a case of the envies and game night gets a lot more interesting.
Brooks challenges the game to an ultimate game night, a live-action mystery with Brooks getting "kidnapped" and everyone else tasked with trying to find him.
Oh, did I forget to mention that the winner gets the keys to the Stingray.
Oh, and the Stingray.
The catch? Shortly after the game is announced, Brooks really does get kidnapped by dangerous criminals but the game players are clueless to the suddenly perilous nature of the game.
Game Night is that rare intelligent comedy that works, at least for the most part, with co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein ingeniously stylizing Game Night as a thriller meets increasingly wacked out situations that are less laugh out loud funny than they are squirmingly funny with Mark Perez's sharp, tight script creating just enough seriousness to keep us invested in the characters even when the silliness amps itself up.
To its credit and its detriment, Jason Bateman could do a role like Max in his sleep. Few actors actually can convincingly pull off ultra-serious and sublimely serious in the same scene, but Bateman's one of them and he does it in pretty fine fashion for the most part here. If there's a down side to Bateman's presence here, it's simply that we've seen this from him before so it never quite feels as fresh as it should.
On the other hand, I'm not sure we've ever seen Rachel McAdams like we're seeing here here and it's an absolute delight. McAdams has always been one of those actresses who can pull off sincerely sweet and stunningly snooty, both qualities that come into play here. However, I'm not sure I've ever seen her truly cut loose as she does here and she's paired incredibly well with Bateman.
The film's most uncomfortable yet effective humor comes from the situations that unfold as our game players thrust themselves into life-and-death situations not fully realizing that they actually are life-and-death situations. By the time they seem to get a clue, Game Night has somehow managed to become an absurd thriller comedy with an abundance of heart. The situations are completely silly, yet somehow Game Night never dumbs itself down and still manages to work.
It can fairly be said that Game Night doesn't quite always work with the humor not always living up to the clever set-up, but the film is gifted with an ensemble cast that understands the tone that Daley and Goldstein are going for here and even when the dialogue occasionally clunks the characters never do. Kudos must also be given to Jesse Plemons, who has seemingly shown up in just about every film over the past year, whose role as a former game player and still creepy neighbor gives the film many of its truly laugh out loud moments.
Barry Peterson's lensing is stylistically closer to that of a thriller, a clever approach that adds intensity to the film's action sequences and layers the film's absurd dialogue that makes it even more absurd. Cliff Martinez's original music also companions the film's varying tones quite nicely, while the rest of the film's ensemble cast are also top not throughout the film.
While Game Night isn't likely the best comedy you're going to see in 2018, it's certainly a pleasant surprise for a late February release as studios bide their time until the Academy Awards arrive in a little over a month.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic