You wanna play a game?
Comedies are a double-edged sword. While some with imaginative premises can be funny and highly enjoyable to watch, others can just grate the ever loving hell out of you through the sheer force of annoyance. And yet, with some rated-R raunchy comedies, this principle is especially true and can mean the difference between Horrible Bosses and Horrible Bosses 2, i.e. something surprisingly funny and something surprisingly boring. Strangely, we have a film today that was written and directed by the screenwriting duty of both films: John Francis Daly and Jonathan Goldstein, reuniting with a fellow thespian, Jason Bateman. This pair have had a very odd trajectory in Hollywood as they also co-wrote Vacation (2015) and Spider-Man: Homecoming, once again reflecting surprisingly bad and surprisingly good. So it’s basically a toss-up as to whether their latest, Game Night, will meet either fate. Let’s dive in.
So Jason Bateman plays a competitive kind of guy named Max who falls in love with the similarly competitive Annie (Rachel McAdams), leading the pair to host weekly game nights with their friends: Kevin (Lamorne Morris), Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), and Ryan (Billy Magnussen). When Max’s domineering and vastly more successful brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), strolls into town, he decides to one up his brother’s weekly game night with a special game of his own: a murder-mystery role-playing game where the winner gets Brooks’ new Corvette Stingray, all the competitors need to do is solve a kidnapping of one of the guests. However, Brooks’ game gets hijacked by real kidnappers who abduct Brooks himself, setting the clueless players on a dangerous collision course with real criminals as they fail to figure out Brooks and all of their lives are now in danger.
The best part about this movie is that it deftly blends a thriller with comedy seamlessly by having the comedians continually interrupt the more serious kidnapping plot with their hijinks. And the combination works rather well as the contrast is used effectively for all manners of jokes and clever set ups and pay offs. But even though the comedy is highly entertaining on its own, don’t think that the filmmakers skimped out on the thriller aspect either. The duo of Daly and Goldstein clearly did their homework and managed to throw in some fun car and running chases peppered throughout the proceedings to keep the tension and stakes high between all the laughs.
The main source of all the comedy are from your leads in Bateman and McAdams. Not only do the pair have some solid chemistry, they work incredibly well off of each other for some great comedic moments. One scene, revealed in the trailer, shows them in the middle of a bullet-removing sequence, and it got a consistent laughs from myself and everyone else watching it. Not only that, but they also feel like well rounded characters with clear and established goals, weaknesses and strengths…you know, how a character should be written in order for the audience to actually give a damn about what happens to them.
Further, they’re aided by a strong supporting cast of comedians where each character is given a wonderfully funny moment to entertain the audience in their own way. Particularly from Kyle Chandler, who is majorly playing against his usual type by portraying an absolute douchebag, who still manages to reveal layers to himself as the game night progresses. While the other players in Morris, Bunbury, Magnussen, and Sharon Horgan all find ways to get a rise out of the audience, it’s Jesse Plemons who turns in the most memorable side character performance since Daniel Craig in Logan Lucky. Horgan plays an awkward, creepy, and divorced cop who was friends with Bateman and McAdam’s character prior to his wife leaving him, and his curious and uncomfortable demeanor lends itself to plenty of laughs especially around the disturbed comedians walking on eggshells around him.
But Game Night is by no means a perfect comedy. While most of the jokes hit more than they miss, there are a few lulls that keep things stale a bit. Further, the big climactic twist in the final 15 minutes is…way too damn far-fetched and required near perfect clairvoyance to set up that it practically yanked me out of the experience. Thankfully the film recovers from that stumble with some Fast and Furious antics, but even the end credits sequence reminds you of how everything was put together that you couldn’t help but mutter “bullshit” to the plot.
Because when the movie works, it works like a charm. I really want to go into more depth as to why jokes would work, but that would spoil most of the fun. All you need to know is that the film is at least worth your time for a watch, whether with friends, or a date, or just by yourself like the weirdo I am. The duo of Daly and Goldstein clearly have talent and have the potential to be even greater filmmakers, but like Duncan Jones with Mute, they seriously need to tighten up their scripts. A solid premise is great and all, but poor execution can leave a bad taste in audience’s mouths. Still, I’m only being hard on them because I genuinely would have recommended this movie as a Full Price release. As the movie stands with those critiques that I’ve mentioned, I’ll give this a solid…
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