MOVIE REVIEW: Game Night (2018)

Much like a board game, Game Night throws a lot of curveballs and fakeouts. Every detour is packed with snappy humor.

It’s not the game itself that makes every game night an enjoyable social activity. It’s the people who you’re playing with that makes the evening fun, right? And from this perspective, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (co-writers behind Horrible Bosses and Spiderman: Homecoming) captures well the spirit of camaraderie in Game Night. This film is not made for the sake of delivering mindless laughs but it has well-established characters, making them likable enough to hold the film. Audiences can easily latch on to them and feel like they’re part of the gang. As a hybrid genre, this is a team effort – the elements of comedy, thriller, drama and action mesh well together.

Mark Perez’s well-thought and cleverly-written script is the film’s strongest asset. At the center of the story is a competitive couple Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) who are in the baby steps of attempting to get pregnant. They are joined with other key players: high school sweethearts Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) and enthusiastic dimwit Ryan (Billy Magnussen) along with her date Sarah (Sharon Horgan), an older Irish woman way above his IQ spectrum. “You’re such a double threat: brains and british,” he says.

The host of the night is Brooks (Kyle Chandler), Max’s older and more successful brother to which the latter has built an inferiority complex to. Brooks promises “a game night to remember” and suffice to say, there will be a lot of chaos and surprises to ensue in this dangerously high-stakes game. Hint: It does not involve charades, pictionary or any of these “couch sports.”

Game Night operates like a board game. It throws a lot of curveballs and fakeouts and every detour is packed with snappy jokes. As the movie zips along, each unlikely scenario plays out naturally without convoluting the plot that much. Just like most recent comedies, it leans heavily on pop culture references but in here, they are not lazily-written as they fit with the situational brand of humor.

This is a black comedy so one can expect a lot of violence played for laughs. One character gets thrashed by goons around the house while his friends couldn’t care less as they binge-eat on cheese. A henchman gets sucked into a jet engine to which Annie responds with joy then into disgust as she realizes that a guy just died in front of her. But the funniest and the bloodiest part is a bullet-extraction scene involving a pair of pliers and rubber gloves, a bottle of wine, and a squeaky hamburger toy.

It helps a lot that Game Night is aided by an ensemble of comedians who elevate the material even more. The performances are eclectic as each character has their time to shine. For McAdams, the only time I’ve seen her doing comedy before is on Mean Girls and going in here, I might have underestimated her comedic timing. She has a good chemistry with Bateman who balances her wackiness with a straight-up guy act. The scene-stealer award however goes to their creepy cop neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons), a divorcee who is excluded in their game nights for the reason that he indulges too much on small talks. Plemons’ monotone and deadpan schtick draws a lot of laughs but it goes beyond the surface as the script does well in servicing his character arc to come full circle.

In addition, the film has artistic choices to brag as well. The moody lighting works but the coolest by far is a long take of suburban streets shot on a board game. As the shot gets closer, the scene transitions to a real locale.

Game Night strikes a tricky balance. It serves a lot of humor but it does not undercut the heart of the story. It has a loose plot to make it feel unpredictable enough but the editing is tightly-paced to make it feel coherent. The story can get twisty sometimes but it never gets too convoluted. This may not be groundbreaking enough to be classified as a classic comedy per se but it is a fun game that I wouldn’t mind playing again.

4 out of 5 stars

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