In Game Night, Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) spend a night as pawns in someone else's game.
Competitive married couple Max and Annie host a weekly gaming gathering with friends that is literally hijacked by Max's rich, overachieving and much cooler brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) who ups the ante with a murder mystery plot that gets out of hand, with the gang unsure of what’s real and what’s make-believe. Masked, strong built men, who may or may not be part of the game, brutally kidnap Brooks while the participants look on, sampling the cheese board. From there on, the night goes on to be violently awry and a little more than what was expected in a game night.
Max and Annie’s friends include Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), another married couple, and Ryan (Billy Magnussen), a dope who dates Instagram models who are much younger than him. Excluded from the gatherings is creepy next door neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemons) also a socially awkward cop.
The back and forth between McAdams and Bateman is what makes Game Night so watchable. Even when Annie is prying a bullet out of Max’s arm and keeps referring to the instructions on her smartphone, the way he begs her for the love of God to just adjust the display settings has the well-honed tolerance of a long-married couple. The movie keeps moving from one outlandish development to another but stays rooted in the ability to work as a unit. They don’t need to triumph in every contest, as long as their defeats, as well as their victories, are shared.
Game Night doesn’t have a monopoly on the formula in which suburbanites get drunk and have a run-in with dangerous criminals on an innocent night out. Unlike ‘Date Night’ and ‘Fun Mom Dinner’, this one is not a sorry excuse for comedy. The jokes are witty, the risk is real and there’s at least one thrilling plot twist. Screenwriter Mark Perez knows the difference between simply making a reference and actually writing a joke. And, while the jokes come ceaselessly, they are knowingly and lightly offered.
The pace is swift, too. A fantastic chase sequence finds the group running through a mini-mansion, trying to wrestle an expensive object away from some crooks. The camera cleverly follows along as they play hot potato with the item, and evil henchmen fall like dominoes.
There are more than enough laughs in the movie to warrant a recommendation, thanks to a solidly funny script by Mark Perez, some neat camera moves and choreographed action/comedic sequences from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein and, a likeable and talented ensemble cast. Whether its movies such as ‘The Gift’ or the Netflix series ‘Ozark,’ Bateman always finds a way to make his performances interesting. As for McAdams, other than being one of the most endearing and charming and natural and beautiful actors around, she seemed to be enjoying being in the film.
But numero uno is Jesse Plemons who plays a recently divorced cop who deeply resents not being invited to game night. Plemons is now established as a master at playing Grade-A creeps (recent being the latest season of ‘Black Mirror’). But his comedic timing and awkward quirks here are as weird as it gets.
That excellent performance, sharp direction, and a smart script make Game Night a worthwhile comedy and not just another trivial pursuit. It's neither groundbreaking nor career-making, but it manages to be smart even when it's being very dumb, and it's filled with the kind of surprise cameo appearances that trigger dumb grins of recognition and appreciation.