A group of friends, whom meet weekly for Game Night, are unwittingly roped into the underworld when another member joins.
The film starts as Max (Jason Bateman, “Bad Words”) and Annie (Rachel McAdams, “Spotlight”) first meet at a trivia night at a bar. It’s love at first sight as they tie for an answer about Teletubbies, and, during the opening credits, we watch a montage of different game nights, culminating with Max asking Annie to marry him (still at game night).
Cut to a few years later, and Max and Annie are sitting in a doctor’s office, playing paper football as they wait for the doctor to return. They’re trying to have a baby, but seem to be running into some issues. The doctor suggests it might be psychosomatic, and asks if there might be any reasons why he’d be stressed out. Annie responds by saying that they are both super competitive, and they have been their whole lives. To make matters worse, Max’s more handsome, more successful (he invested in Panera) older brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler, “King Kong (2005)”) is coming into town, and that always stresses Max out.
The couple eventually returns home to find their neighbor, Gary, a cop whom never seems to change out of his uniform, standing out by his mailbox, stroking his little white lapdog like a James Bond villain. It’s made apparent Gary has no friends after his recent divorce, and he’d like very much to be invited to game night. However, Max and Annie find Gary super weird, and they go to great lengths not to invite him, including telling all their friends to park a few blocks away and sneak into the house. Their friends, married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris, Fox’s “New Girl”) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury, CBS’s “Under the Dome”), and their slightly stupid single friend, Ryan (Billy Magnussen, “The Big Short”), whom brings with him a different woman every Game night, show up just before Brooks, and they all prepare for games. Brooks shows up driving Max’s childhood dream car, a beautiful red Stingray, just to show off, and then proceeds to tell an embarrassing story about Max. Brooks then invites everyone from game night over to his house for the following week, saying that it’ll be a game night to remember.
The next week, all of the friends reconvene at a home Brooks is renting. Ryan brings along Sarah (Sharon Horgan, “Catastrophe”), a woman slightly older than he’s used to bringing, but much smarter; he’s hoping bringing her will give him an edge on the night’s games. Brooks announces that he’s hired a murder mystery crew to kidnap one of the game night members, and the others will have to figure out what happened to their missing friend. The winner will receive the Stingray as a prize. Shortly after this is announced, an “FBI Agent” arrives with dossiers containing information relevant to the kidnapping, but as he’s delivering information, two masked thugs break in and, after a violent struggle, take Brooks, threatening to shoot anyone who follows. The friends, convinced this is all part of the game, watch from the couch, complimenting the “actor’s” commitment, before jumping to the clues and trying to figure them out.
Max and Annie decide to track Brooks’s phone in order to find him faster, and after driving to a shady bar, they use a gun that Brooks dropped at the house to hold up the place, believing all the patrons are actors. They free Brooks, thinking they’ve won the game, only to have the gun go off and shoot Max in the arm. Max and Annie are shocked, and as the bar patrons try to break down the door, Brooks tells them that all of this is real, that the kidnapping game was interrupted by a real kidnapping. They free Brooks and take off in their car as Brooks explains that he had been lying about how he made his money, he actually hadn’t invested in Panera, he’d become a smuggler, and had recently screwed over a mobster by selling a Faberge egg to a different buyer. Now, the mobster, known only as “the Bulgarian” wants him dead. After spouting this tidbit of exposition, Brooks apologizes for getting them involved and hurls himself out of the car where the mobsters who’d been following them promptly scoop him up and drive away. Desperate to save his brother’s life, Max, Annie, and the rest of their friends all band together to try to find the egg and bring it to the Bulgarian by midnight so that Brooks’s life might be spared.
Originally, I really had no intention of seeing this film in theatres. To me, this looked like a run of the mill comedy; some funny bits, some slower bits, better viewed at home, where I can pause and walk around or grab food if I grow bored. But the reviews for this film were decidedly positive, something I did not expect at all, and with Moviepass, it’s easy to justify seeing movies I wouldn’t have normally seen in theatres. I was pleasantly surprised by how fast paced this movie was; this film was, quite literally, a joke-a-minute movie. I would say 90% of the jokes landed with the audience I saw the film with; some of them were better than others, certainly, but never was the movie slow or boring.
The writing was incredibly tight. Jokes are set up and then brought back multiple times with increasing hilarity almost every time. The humor is rather dark at times, but never so dark that it makes the viewer uncomfortable. The characters were all unique and entertaining, each grew a little bit as the movie went on, but not too much; it’s not a serious character drama after all. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams had great onscreen chemistry together; their competetive relationship was absolutely hilarious. The supporting cast, whom all had different recurring jokes that worked in with their character’s personalities, complimented Bateman and McAdams’s chemistry wonderfully, and switching between the different characters every few minutes kept the film feeling fresh and light. Billy Magnussen as the dimwitted Ryan was particularly funny, and though I haven’t seen too much of him, I’m sure we will see more.
There was one scene where the directors and cinematographer tried something new by doing a long take, winding through a home, through a fight, up and down stairs, and over a balcony; it was nice to see some innovative cinematography in a comedy.
For some reason, Jesse Plemons’s (“Vice”) portrayal of Gary, the slighted cop from next door, seemed to be a little too stoic or hardnosed for the film, and as a result, some of the awkwardness he gives off comes across as not funny, but just weird. It's hard to play a straight man well, and sadly, the dynamic between other characters and him never really finds its groove. As a result, only some of his jokes work; still, the jokes that do land with Gary, land hard. Plemons is a really good actor; I've been following his career since he shot that kid on Breaking Bad (something that sounds weird, now that I say it out loud), but this was not one of his better roles.
The film is also rather predictable (save one fantastic, hilarious twist); we pretty much know how the film is going to end right after Brooks talks about the Bulgarian and the egg. But though it’s predictable, that doesn’t make it any less fun; there are plenty of great lines that were repeated in my group of friends following our viewing.
This was one of the better comedies I’ve seen in a while. The pacing of the script, the actor’s chemistry, and the dark humor made light, all worked wonders for this film. It won’t win any awards; it’s not as moving as last year’s “The Big Sick”, nor quite as irreverent as “The Hangover”, but it is pretty darn funny. Another thing I liked about this film was that, though it was rated R, there was no nudity, and the sexual references weren’t overly crass or inappropriate when compared with other R rated comedies (there was a bit of language, but I feel like I hear more four letter words at work on any given day). If you’re looking for a lighthearted comedy, one that boasts many funny moments, and few objectionable ones, you can’t really go wrong here.
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