I knew next to nothing about Game Night before plopping into my seat. With actors Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as the top-billed talent, I was intrigued. I did, however, doubt whether directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein‘s script could hold up after hearing about the disaster that was Vacation. Fortunately for them, Game Night is surprisingly funny.
Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) were destined for one another. Meeting during a trivia night inside a local bar, the two were instant soulmates and connected over their love of games. It’s not long before Max proposes to Annie over a game of charades and both live happily together. Although, Max continues to live in the shadow of his brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), a wealthy investor who just happens to be in town for a game night. Brooks is arrogant and lives a carefree lifestyle, which is why he chose to have Max and his friends play a murder-mystery game where someone would get captured and clues given afterwards. First to find the missing person, wins.
Bateman is familiar with both directors after they wrote Horrible Bosses. That’s probably the last comedic role I can remember Bateman being genius in. Luckily, he and McAdams have a certain chemistry here that makes for some of the best gags in the film. These two really are the biggest reasons Game Night succeeds on the surface. Each moment this duo shares seems as if they’re comfortable and given the better share of jokes from the writers.
There are some redeemable qualities elsewhere, also. The film, of course, revolves around board game themes. Whenever we’re taken to Max and Annie’s neighborhood, homes look like those in Monopoly and the camera swoops in, seamlessly transitioning to actual homes, cars and families. The special effects team led by Dean Tyrrell (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) should take a bow for adding this unique touch, which helps separate this comedy from others.
While Game Night surprised me with its jokes, it still falls victim to some glaring flaws. When jokes are good in this one, they’re good. But there are one too many moments where running jokes seemingly trudge through the mud. Actor Jesse Plemons, for instance, is the neighborhood cop who is monotone and has the driest personality. Very early on do I understand what the film is trying to do by forcing dry humor into our faces: Plemons’ character will be a rolling joke. And that he was — it just wasn’t successful. Too often did I groan through these sort-of sequences where the film truly didn’t know how to just call it quits.
Another fault lies in the supporting cast. When I saw how actor Lamorne Morris carried himself, it was far too reminiscent of Jay Pharoah, another impressionist. Both do a Denzel Washington accent and… Morris’ shtick surrounds an unsuccessful Denzel joke. He even does the accent and everything. This would’ve been funnier had Pharoah not gone mainstream with the same shtick years ago. The rest of the characters just feel weightless and, at times, the film treads into “dude-bro comedy” territory with actor Billy Magnussen. This is clearly Bateman and McAdams’ film; others try to run with these two, but they take a seat next to their performances.
I do think how low my expectations were for Game Night played into my enjoyment but, having time to think about this comedy, I can’t complain too much. Nothing about it made me hate it, and nothing about it made me over-the-top excited. This isn’t a film that tries to be bigger than itself, which helps keeps things light during the third-act reveal. Worth a shot? Sure. This just won’t be something I’m thinking about in December.
I attended an advanced screening for purposes of this review thanks to Allied Integrated Marketing and Warner Bros.
Game Night is rated-R, runs 1 hour and 40 minutes and hits theaters on Feb. 23, 2018.