Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Stars: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lomorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Michael C Hall, Jeffery Wright.

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This enjoyable mix of action and comedy from the team behind films like Horrible Bosses is like David Fincher’s The Game crossed with Date Night.

A group of friends regularly meet every Saturday night for some old-fashioned fun, playing old school board games and charades. The games are held at the home of Max (Jason Bateman) and his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams), both very competitive gamers who met a trivia night. The players include bickering high school sweethearts Kevin (Lomorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) and dim-witted ladies’ man Ryan (Billy Magnussen, from tv series Get Shorty, etc), who brings along a different shallow empty-headed date each night.

But this time, Max’s supposedly much more successful and wealthy older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler, Emmy winner from Saturday Night Lights, etc) arrives for a surprise visit and decides to up the ante when he hosts his own game night. He has chosen an interactive “mystery” theme around the concept of a kidnapping. But things quickly go pear shaped when real life crooks invade the house, beat up Brooks, duct tape and drag him from the house. Max and the gang initially think it was all part of the game.

But when they realise that it was real, Max and his friends embark on a cross town chase to try and rescue Brooks. Their competitive spirit though means that they try to race each other to find Brooks and their efforts are driven by their natural one-upmanship. They soon discover that neither the game nor Brooks are what they seem. The chase also sees them having to find a Faberge egg, which is something of a McGuffin.

For the most part Game Night is an energetic and light-hearted action comedy with thriller elements as it mixes some car chases, fight scenes and the odd angry shot. But the plot is also very convoluted and there are a couple of last minute twists that defy credibility. The script comes from Mark Perez (the more family friendly Disney film Herbie Fully Loaded, etc). The film has been directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who are best known for writing comedies like Horrible Bosses, etc. They made their feature film directorial debut with 2015’s disappointing Vacation reboot, and here they bring their own comic sensibilities to Perez’s screenplay and make the most of the thin premise.

The film is slickly paced, and cinematographer Barry Peterson suffuses the material with a noir like palette. There are some nice visual gags as well, including establishing shots of various neighbourhoods that initially resemble a board game community.

Bateman often has a nice everyman quality that shapes his performances. Here he seems far more comfortable than in some of the crass comedies like Office Christmas Party that he has appeared in. He and McAdams develop a wonderful chemistry that lifts the film, and they play off each other well. It seems that she has allowed Bateman to lift his game. McAdams also shows a nice flair for comedy.  The cast also features Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale, etc), and Danny Huston and Dexter star Michael C Hall in small roles as shady underworld figures.

Everyone in the cast is given their own moment to shine. But the stand out of the ensemble is Jesse Plemons (American Made, etc) who plays Gary, Max and Annie’s somewhat creepy and obsessive neighbour. Gary used to be a regular part of their game night crowd until he and his wife Debbie divorced, and he became too moody and depressed for their liking.

Game Night is uneven, but with a brisk running time of 100 minutes it never quite outstays its welcome. And it is a lot more fun than many other recent Hollywood comedies.


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