Everyone loves a game night. A relaxing night in with your closest friends, bonding over who is the best at Charades or Pictionary – at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. Inevitably, someone cheats or gets too competitive and the whole thing goes awry. In the new film “Game Night,” the characters encounter a night that isn’t relaxing, but it is entertaining to the audience.
Max and Annie are those friends who are super competitive at everything they do – they even had a Dance Dance Revolution game at their wedding. So naturally, they host their friends for weekly game nights, and for some reason, their friends always show up. It’s standard fare; but all of that changes when Max’s brother comes for a visit and offers to host the ultimate game night. Rather than another night sitting around the coffee table, Brooks has arranged for a murder mystery. Everyone gets more than they bargained for when he is kidnapped for real and not just as part of the game.
It should be no surprise that the writers of “Horrible Bosses,” acting as directors here, are able to craft an entertaining, fast-paced and hilarious R-rated movie. The filmmakers avoid the trap that most adult targeted comedies make, which is to rely on raunchy jokes to get the laughs. Sharing a sensibility with their previous film, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (who also directed the “Vacation” reboot together) aren’t afraid to be dark and twisted to bring laughs to the screen.
Along with a crackling script, the cast deserves just as much credit. There isn’t a weak link in the cast and the core group of actors has such an easy chemistry that it feels like they have actually been friends for a long time. There are even a couple of quick cameos from Michael C. Hall, Jeffrey Wright, and Chelsea Peretti (“Brooklyn 99”) that are perfectly cast. Jason Bateman leads the cast, and continues to play a variation on the same character that he has played for almost every role since he began the second act of his career. He’s perfect as the button-down straight man, Max, who helps to keep everything moving and acts as the voice of reason.
In a stacked cast, it’s those who are stepping out of their comfort zones that shine the most. As Max’s better half, Rachel McAdams brings depth to her character while effortlessly getting laughs from the smallest of moments. She rarely takes on comedic roles, which is a shame because she’s just as good at getting laughs as she is bringing the emotion in her dramatic turns. Billy Magnussen, who’s taken a couple of comedic spins on the small screen, hasn’t done many comedy films and he knocks it out of the park as the pretty but dimwitted Ryan.
Not everything works for the film, though. Screenwriter Mark Perez keeps the audience on their toes with the twists.
However, as the film goes on, some of the twists start becoming implausible. Perez tries to outsmart the audience one too many times rather than just letting the film play out. There are plenty of laughs and the extra twist wasn’t really needed. To make matters worse, the filmmakers double down the twist during the end credits as they try to offer an explanation. Yet, it ends up just highlighting the giant leap of disbelief that is needed by the audience for it to work.
“Game Night” is the unique film where the trailer doesn’t give away the entire plot or the majority of the jokes, leaving the audience in for a treat. In fact, in the context of the film, some of the trailer jokes didn’t even really land in the theater. It’s twisted, it’s dark, and it’s full of laughs. Hopefully this is checkmate for the comedic drought at cineplexes!