Synopsis – A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights find themselves trying to solve a murder mystery.
My Take – I don’t know if it’s just me, but good comedies seem really hard to come by these days and it also feels like ages since a comedy wasn’t filled with unnecessary profanities, sex jokes and loud-mouthed side characters. Thankfully this film is not one of those. Here, Horrible Bosses writing duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have honed their comedy craft considerably something which was missing from their previous collaborative directorial effort, Vacation (2015), a lamely misfired re-launch of the National Lampoon franchise property, in order to give us a refreshing and original mainstream experience, which is far and away the best high-profile Hollywood comedy to come our way in sometime. Sure, it doesn’t break new grounds in terms of humor, but when a film can hold your interest and keep you engaged even when there’s no comedy in a specific moment, it is doing something right. This film is a rare major studio comedy that actually feels like a comedy film, rather than a soulless exercise in assembly-line film making, thanks to its sharp script, clever direction, and an excellent cast. The story follows Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), a married couple who met during a trivia night at a bar. Gaming has been a regular part of their lives, and they are often involved with hosting game nights for their friend who includes inviting the lovey-dovey couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), along with Ryan (Billy Magnussen), a seeming moron with a revolving stable of even-dumber dates. Max and Annie seems have it all save for a family and when it is determined that stress may be leading to the problem Max attempts to resolve the issue. Max has issues with his older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who he sees as ultra-successful business man who loves rubbing his success in his face.
The fact that Max has not seen his brother in a while is not an issue, the fact that the brother who seems to beat him in everything has returned is enough to set the mild-mannered Max on edge. After an enjoyable game night, Brooks offers to host the next one and although Max knows this is just Brooks looking for a way to show off his house, he accepts the invitation. Upon arrival, Brooks tells Max, Annie, and their friends that they will be playing a mystery night where a group of actors will stage a kidnapping and they must unravel clues to solve the mystery. The fact that Brooks is offering a prized car that Max has long coveted is all the motivation he needs to win the competition. The game starts and a group of goons arrive and rough up Brooks and kidnap him in front of the guests who all think this is part of the show. They soon come to realize that Brooks may not be the person he claims to bend that the kidnapping may indeed be real and not part of a scripted game. What follows is a mix of comedy and dramatic mystery that while unfolding slowly at times,is filled with some funny moments and great characters. Directors Daley and Golstein were also two of the six credited writers of last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which borrowed a lot from John Hughes Brat Pack flicks to deliver a winning combination of new and old. It’s great to see directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein advance from their Horrible Bosses writing breakthrough to craft a tightly structured story with their assured and often imaginatively constructed direction and the ability for the film to both not take itself too seriously or not playing to the lowest common denominators. This is a film that starts fast and keeps moving at a break-neck pace for its entire run time. The twists and turns and special appearances along the way are surprising and fun. Directors Daley and Goldstein, seem to revel in creating a narrative that defies audience (and the film’s characters’) expectations at every turn. This is a film that never stops being fun, but you get the feeling that all the car chases, cardboard villains, gunshots and blood-splatters are the result of a massive brainstorm-styled meeting where everyone in attendance contributed their own ideas of what might work – and all of these delicacies were thrown into the pot and cooked at the exact same temperature, mainly as screenwriter Mark Perez’s clever, zinger-filled script is full of smart, sharp, rat-a-tat pop-cultural riffs and the kind of connective-tissue dialogue that makes characters feel like real people instead of merely props. All of the ingredients are there: the super competitive couple that always wins, the couple being a little too open and honest about a marital spat, the idiot who is terrible at games but a lot of fun to have around, the guy who is only invited because he heard about game night from someone else, the moments of tension broken up by intense laughter and the three bags of Tostito’s Scoops. The film manages the tricky mix of broad comedy with shoot-outs and rollicking action sequences that—as even the characters admit—would fit easily into a Liam Neeson flick. There are many hilarious bits throughout, including a high-stakes “keep-away” toss match with a highly prized Febergé egg that spans several rooms and levels of a mansion; a little, fluffy white dog making a big, bloody mess; and Annie improvising as a back-alley medic for Max with a bottle of cheap wine, a squeak toy, her iPhone and a sewing kit. At one point, about halfway through, when it seemed that the film was turning more into an action thriller than a comedy, the film instead steers right into the absurdity in its premise and delivers another load of belly laughs. The comedy here is terrific and very well-written.
I found myself laughing both at the humor itself and how writer Mark Perez was able to callback certain moments and extend jokes to make them even funnier as the film progressed. Perez, and directors Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, also know that the tightly controlled light comedy taking place among the film’s ensemble only works if the chaos it’s contrasted against isn’t truly chaotic. They’ve constructed a film in which the tension steadily escalates with at least a nod toward the logic of cause and effect, and characters make stupid but clearly motivated decisions. This is a comedy that works well in terms of the multiple styles of comedy packed into the small-time frame of the film. Slapstick, stupidity, one liners, over the top stunts, and overacted delivery are balanced together to keep things interesting and fun in the 100 minutes or so of content. And while much of this is dumb fun, there is an intriguing mystery to ground it all to a common point and keep things in line. How far does the rabbit hole descend in terms of crime, you’ll have to see for yourself, but there are plenty of twists to keep you guessing. Surprisingly, the film’s players have a little more background than the usual pawns of this genre, with each member dealing with some issue that plagues them. Themes like responsibility, jealousy, and self-worth are all here, gradually expanded upon as the teams try to find the clues to rescuing their kidnapped colleague. It’s a clever adventure and gets my two thumbs up in terms of a unique flair. The film also has mild twists and turns and some aerial shots that actually look like objects in the game of Monopoly. It also has neat closing credits that are humorous and don’t involve outtakes (that’s a refreshing change). A lot of the characters here also spew film references from stuff like The Green Mile, The Sixth Sense, Pulp Fiction, and Django Unchained. Normally, I find this adage tired and stock but surprisingly it adds to the film’s peppy charm. Of course, the film isn’t without its problems, and an electric first hour gives way to a slow third act that’s handicapped as its plot gimmick wears thin, and too-earnest side plot about Max and Annie’s shifting plans to have a kid doesn’t help matters. I’m sure if you spent some time trying to figure out exactly how everything works out the way it did, you could probably make your head hurt, but hey it’s a comedy right, and somehow this one redeems itself by the end with a series of twists and turns fitting of the absurd premise. That said, the film really lives and dies by its cast, and this is a top-notch ensemble. What makes them so funny here, and what makes the entire cast funny, is a total commitment to the material. They play the dumbest developments totally straight, each successively unlikely twist like it was Shakespeare. The back and forth between Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman is what makes this so good. Bateman is as dependable as always, an even-keeled every man plunged into wildly unreasonable circumstances, while McAdams gets to be a little wackier than usual and has some superb reaction moments. They’re an appealing pair, and we’re happy to follow them through this gleefully bloody comedy with a fair amount of twists and genuine laughs. On top of Bateman and McAdams, Kyle Chandler plays against type as the rakish, Elon Musk-esque tycoon older brother of Bateman’s character. His character and performance seems to be almost poking fun at the uber-perfection of his previous roles. Meanwhile, the rest of the party, rounded out by Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Billy Magnussen, and Sharon Horgan, add to the high-stakes chaos with their own respective arcs, all of which intersect throughout the night to oft-hilarious results. Jeffrey Wright, Michael C. Hall and Danny Huston have likable cameos. However, the breakout star of the film is Jesse Plemons who plays Max and Annie’s creepy police neighbor who is deeply disturbed following the breakup of his marriage and has taken things to a new level. You will want to stay through the credits as there are some extra scenes which round out the film nicely. On the whole, ‘Game Night‘ is a hilarious comedy that charms with its ridiculous twists, clever direction, and engaging performances.
Rated – R
Run Time – 100 minutes