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Monday, April 9, 2018

Review: Game Night (2018)

* * *

Director: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams

The game is real is one of the lazier story premises this side of mismatched police partners or love interests who start out hating each other only to fall in love. For proof look no further than the trailers for the absolutely atrocious looking Truth or Dare, which asks "What if a bunch of 20-somethings played a slumber party game... to death?" But even an unremarkable premise can be saved by strong execution, which is something that Game Night, a comedy about sibling rivalry and a parlor game that gets a little too real, has to its credit. Anchored by the deadpan comedic chops of Jason Bateman and the effortless charms of Rachel McAdams, Game Night suffers slightly from having more plot twists than it absolutely needs, but it's ultimately a winner.

The set up for Game Night is twofold: first, it is about the love of games (and winning) shared by Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams), who meet during trivia night at a bar, fall in love, get married, and go on to dominate at game nights with their friends; and second, it is about the root of Max's competitive nature, which is his jealousy of his brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who has consistently "bested" him at seemingly everything their entire lives. So deep are Max's anxieties about Brooks that the stress of Brooks' impending return to town is thought to the be the cause of Max and Annie's fertility problems. So naturally when Brooks rolls into town - behind the wheel of the Corvette Stingray that Max has always dreamed of owning, no less - and disparages Max and Annie's old school game nights by promising a game night that will "take it up a notch," Max and Annie are determined to beat him at his own game.

Brooks' game is an elaborate role playing mystery game which he's careful to stress to those assembled - which includes high school sweethearts Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), and Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his date of the week, Sarah (Sharon Horgan) - that what they're about to see is going to look very realistic. So, naturally, when a pair of guys in masks break down the door, beat the hell out of Brooks, and then abscond with him, the rest of the party pays more attention to the cheese plate that Brooks has provided than they do to what they believe to be another of Brooks' over-the-top demonstrations of how he's so much cooler and edgier than everyone else. As the teams start what they believe to be the game, they're so caught up in their own issues - Michelle's admission during a game of "never have I ever" that she's slept with someone other than Kevin, Sarah's realization that the only reason Ryan asked her out was to prove to his friends that he doesn't just go for beautiful airheads - that they don't give much thought to whether or not Brooks might be in any actual danger.

Written by Mark Perez, Game Night ends up having an unwieldy amount of plot that involves multiple deceptions, reversals, overly complicated plans, fake bad guys, real bad guys, and fake "real" bad guys. It's the sort of film where revelations are made at the end that make the things that happened at the beginning make less sense instead of more and where by the time you get to the final conclusion you have to throw out all logic in order to accept it. This would be irritating were it not for the fact that the film is so consistently entertaining, wringing as much humor as possible out of Max and Annie's guileless enthusiasm for the "game" (including a delightful scene where McAdams dances to "Semi-Charmed Life" while waving around a gun that she thinks is fake and holding bad guys she thinks are actors hostage), Ryan's dimness, Michelle's belief that the guy she had a one-night stand with was Denzel Washington, Max and Annie's creepy neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons), and a running gag about the incredible durability of glass tables.

I wouldn't characterize Game Night as a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a solidly entertaining one. Bateman plays what might be called the "Jason Bateman role," the everyman whose underplayed reactions highlight the absurdity of what's going on around him, and McAdams demonstrates once again that she may be even more adept at comedy than she is at drama (though I may change my tune on that when her next film, Disobedience, comes out later in the month). They make a great pair onscreen and they're surrounded by strong supporting performances (Plemons, in particular, digs deep with the overly intense Gary), making Game Night a delightful comedic diversion.

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