Game Night is a madcap adventure packed with laughs, twists, and good performances that will keep audiences thoroughly entertained.
Game Night is a new comedy from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who are currently best known for helming the Vacation reboot and writing last summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. The duo was recently pegged by Warner Bros. (the studio behind Game Night) to call the shots on the troubled Flashpoint movie, indicating WB liked what they had in the pair and wanted to keep them in-house. Since that Flashpoint announcement was made prior to Game Night‘s release, there was hope this vehicle could break free from the typical Hollywood comedy mold and offer something a bit unique. On that front, Daley and Goldstein are definitely successful. Game Night is a madcap adventure packed with laughs, twists, and good performances that will keep audiences thoroughly entertained.
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie Davis (Rachel McAdams) spend their weekends hosting a traditional game night at their house, where friends Kevin (Lamorne Morris), his wife Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), Ryan (Billy Magnussen), and whatever Instagram model Ryan happens to be dating come to play everything from charades to a regular board game. One week, this routine is disrupted by the arrival of Max’s well-off brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who is in town for business. After humiliating Max by beating him once again, Brooks suggests the group come to his house the following week for a game night like no other.
When everyone arrives, Brooks reveals he’s mixing things up by organizing a murder-mystery game for the gang to solve, with the winner getting the keys to his shiny new sports car. People who appear to be actors break into Brooks’ house and take him away through brute force, kicking off the night’s festivities. But due to the authenticity of the staged murder-mystery, it’s difficult to tell if the events Max and friends are experiencing are real or all part of the facade. As the evening goes on, things continue to escalate to a life or death situation.
One of the strongest assets Game Night has at its disposal is the script. Writer Mark Perez does a very good job of keeping viewers engaged in the core narrative by throwing a number of curveballs along the journey, which forces moviegoers to stay on their toes the entire time. The stakes are fairly high for a film in this genre, making it easy to remain invested even as things go to some absurd heights. There are also some primary subplots that add some welcome layers (covering Max’s relationships with Brooks and Annie) that allow for some nice character moments that give Game Night a solid emotional core. Perez also strikes the tricky balance of serving up plenty of humor without undercutting the drama at the heart of the story. Not all of the jokes land as intended, but audiences will be laughing throughout.
It helps Game Night boasts a talented ensemble cast, led by Bateman and McAdams. The two have terrific chemistry with each other, naturally coming across as a longtime married couple (one that’s trying to work through some issues) in their various interactions. Both are a great deal of fun in their roles and anchor Game Night with committed turns that ask them to shift between comedic and action beats. As for their circle of friends, each couple is given their own minor storyline so they have more to do than just be pawns in the game. A running gag with Kevin and Michelle feels superfluous and wears thin after some time (though the payoff is pretty good), while Ryan and his newest date Sarah (Sharon Horgan) have a dynamic that follows a predictable trajectory, but is also responsible for some solid laughs. Nobody in the cast is bad; however, Max and Annie definitely have more to do.
The true standout of Game Night is Jesse Plemons, who plays Gary Kingsbury, a former friend of Max and Annie’s who was cut from the game night gang after a painful divorce. Of all the arcs in the film, his is arguably the most rewarding and paints the character in a sympathetic light. In addition to the writing, the material Gary is given is bolstered by Plemons’ performance, which is effectively off-kilter in its delivery. Chandler is typically in solid form as Brooks, channeling his sleazier side to play up the sibling rivalry aspect with Bateman. At times, the Brooks character falls victim to the trap of telling, not showing (which prevents his arc from feeling completely earned), but that’s more a fault of the script than Chandler.
In terms of technical filmmaking, Game Night is a strong addition to the genre. Daley and Goldstein employ a number of creative transitions, smooth camera movements, and visual comedy that give it an abundance of flair for the big screen. In particular, there is a sequence set inside a mansion illustrating a deftness at handling action that bodes well for the two’s future endeavors. It’s easy to see why WB would be keen on having Daley and Goldstein work on something like Flashpoint, since here they craft an entertaining genre piece that largely stays on track for the duration of its brisk 100-minute runtime. Daley and Goldstein seem to be bursting with creativity for an even larger canvas.
Game Night may not go down as a modern comedy classic, but it’s still an inventive work that’s definitely worth checking out in theaters – especially for fans of the genre or DCEU aficionados who want reassurance Barry Allen is in good hands. The story, while twisty in its execution, never gets too convoluted for its own good and the efforts of the cast make this a fun time at the movies. Who knows – perhaps it will inspire people when planning their own game nights.
Game Night is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 100 minutes and is rated R for language, sexual references, and some violence.
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