Brandon Richardson | 24/02/2018
Those who have seen trailers for Game Night may very well fall into the trap of thinking they've seen the whole film, but those willing to put this fear aside will be rewarded with a surprisingly successful package of laughs and unexpectedly thrilling action.
For Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), games are everything. The ultra-competitive couple met at a trivia night, fell in love at the arcade and even got engaged over a game of charades. Every weekend, they catch up with friends over a few friendly board games. But when Max’s older, highly successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town, their routine gets shaken up, inviting the group over for a game night like no other. Brooks hires a company that stages murder-mystery nights to kidnap him and leave clues for the others to find him. But as the group quickly finds out, the stakes are far higher than mere fun and games.
A mediocre trailer did not inspire much anticipation for this film’s release. However, hopes were bolstered by the quality of the leads, as it is hard to imagine McAdams jumping on board to star in a subpar offseason comedy flop. As such, it is pleasing to report that both Bateman and McAdams are as entertaining here as they have ever been. In particular, McAdams, who in recent years is perhaps better known for her dramatic roles, reminds us of her roots in comedy with some snappy banter and a sense of innocent ignorance to the seriousness of the situation she is in. Bateman provides an excellent sparring partner for McAdams antics. There are respectable performances added from supporting members such as Jeffrey Wright, Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury. But far and above the stand out performance here is Jesse Plemons as Gary; the monotonous, emotionless, creepy neighbour desperate for an invite to a game night. His deadpan delivery provides a welcome contrast to the ridiculous antics of the others.
The choice to blend comedy with the mystery thriller genre pays dividends for the film, creating a self-aware jab at the latter genre. While the film's core tale following the couple throughout their desperate race to find Brooks first somewhat unnaturally interjected with comedic scenes, the jokes frequently payoff here, and provide some relief from the tension and action, which is surprisingly well executed. The camera work is sharp, with the occasional unique burst of creativity combined with some smoothly crafted action scenes. Indeed, it is clear that directors John Francis Daley and Johnathan Goldstein were inspired by their work on Spiderman: Homecoming in bringing some real innovation to the comedic action set pieces. However, perhaps most surprising is that there are twists and turns to the plot that the trailer somehow managed to keep secret. As ridiculous as the journey may seem at times, the branding of the film as a comedy means it never seems unreasonable in context.
Overall, as surprising as this film was, there is nothing (save a few standout performances) that it truly excels in. The comedy is strong at times, but it is often interjected with some unnecessary dialogue around relationship dynamics, also seeming out of place with the surrounding action. Although attempting to juxtapose the serious nature of these discussions with the dire conditions surrounding them as another comedic device, it comes off overly-serious and detracts from its primary strengths as parody of cliche action thrillers.
A surprisingly welcome entry in a relative low season, Game Night is probably a lot more fun than a night of charades with your family.