FILM REVIEW – GAME NIGHT. With Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Jesse Plemons, Kyle Chandler, Lamorne Morris. Written by Mark Perez. Directed by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein. Rated R for language, sexual references, and some violence. 100 minutes.
It takes a while for GAME NIGHT to get rolling but once it does, it turns into a zany, action-packed farce that keeps upping the ante. It’s not terribly deep, but it provides enough laughs to make it a winner.
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) meet as rival team captains at a pub trivia night and are smitten. They’re both competitive and love games, and so teaming up seems inevitable. A few years later finds them hosting their friends for a weekly game night, except for Gary (Jesse Plemons), a sad sack whose wife has left him. Things start to get interesting with the arrival of Brooks (Kyle Chandler), Max’s older and more successful brother, who is constantly upstaging Max, even insisting on hosting the next game night himself.
His plan is to do a live-action mystery where a kidnapping will take place and the friends will have to figure out the clues to solve it. The plan goes awry when real kidnappers show up instead. At that point, the film kicks into high gear as they try to figure out what’s going on and what they will have to do to set things right.
The well-constructed script by Mark Perez sets up jokes and then builds on them so that a drinking game question about whether anyone had slept with a celebrity turns into an increasingly strange joke about Denzel Washington. Ryan (Billy Magnussen) shows up with a series of ditzy dates but arrives for the mystery party with a co-worker (Sharon Horgan) who is much smarter than him.
Best of all, Bateman and McAdams prove to be an effective comedy pairing. He hasn’t always had the best of luck with roles, and McAdams rarely gets the chance to show her comedy chops. The two of them play off of each other perfectly. If there are any filmmakers who understand what made the great screwball romantic comedies of the 1930s work, then please… get these two into a new one immediately.
It should be noted that this is an action comedy and while the emphasis is on the comedy, there is a good deal of violence, including the elimination of one of the bad guys that wouldn’t be out of place in a movie by the Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino. It’s brutal… and it’s played for a big laugh. That should be fair warning to anyone who would just as soon give such material a pass.
For anyone else, “Game Night” is a zany romp that may not linger in the memory, but if it leads to Bateman and McAdams being paired again, it will have been well worth it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.