“Welcome to game night”.
Everybody loves playing games. OK, most people like playing games. Friends have been getting together for game nights since there have been games. From the couples’ bridge days of the 1950’s to poker night with the guys, most of us have gotten together to play some kind of a game with friends. The thing about games is that they’re frivolous. Playing games with some buddies is a good excuse to kill a few hours, maybe have a few drinks. You’re not solving the world’s problems, and it’s usually just a simple night of entertainment. The same can be said for New Line Cinema’s Game Night starring Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, and Kyle Chandler. It’s not an important film, and it isn’t going to go down in the books as a timeless classic. It’s a chance to get together with a few of our own friends and spend about 100 minutes or so having a few laughs and taking a break from all of those problems we’re not solving. It wouldn’t hurt to pick up an extra large tub of popcorn. Yeah, it’ll kill you, but then you won’t have so many of those problems, right?
Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) are having a few friends over for a game night. It’s a tradition among the tight group where they play any number of games, usually as couples. Tonight they are trying to avoid letting neighbor Gary (Plemons) know about the gathering. He’s divorced from one of their friends, and they don’t really like him that much. That means having their guests park down the street and climb through their windows rather than come through the front door. It also involves some quick lies like explaining to Gary why they bought three bags of Scoops. My wife loves the 2 for 1 sales, but so far she hasn’t brought home any 3 for 1 deals. Gary’s a little creepy and more than a little scary. Their cover gets blown when Max’s rich brother Brooks (Chandler) crashes the party with a flashy car and a loud entrance. He wants to prove to the group that he’s a good guy and invites them to his house for the next game night and promises an ultimate experience. He goes through a lot of trouble and expense to hire a murder mystery company to stage a game with the prize being Max’s flashy new sports car. Of course, you know what’s going to happen from here. Through a series of coincidences the game ends up real, and someone is bringing the hurt.
The film actually moves at a pretty quick pace and offers more than a few clever twists. You’ll see some of them coming. Some of them are just too obvious, but I don’t think you’ll see all of them coming. The film was written by Mark Perez and directed by a committee of John Francis and Jonathan Goldstein, the man behind Bateman’s previous film Horrible Bosses. With this cast and crew I was expected a rather raunchy comedy in the way of Horrible Bosses, but I was very pleasantly surprised that this one doesn’t rely on cheap sex and toilet humor. It’s a smart romp that allows us to kind of play along. On top of that, it’s actually very funny. It’s also a film where the trailer doesn’t do it justice. Someone here decided that they should play into those raunchy expectations, and it’s a serious disservice to what we actually get.
The cast is strong. It’s no surprise that Bateman and McAdams have strong chemistry. This isn’t their first film together. There are a lot of folks here who have worked together before. It pays off with a smooth film that has a comfortable feeling from the beginning. It’s that comfort zone and the misdirected expectations that allow this one to come from nowhere and take you by surprise. Kyle Chandler gets to shake his squeaky-clean Coach Taylor image from six incredible years on Friday Night Lights. His Brooks character is wonderfully shady and in-your-face obnoxious. He has more than a few skeletons in his closet that are revealed throughout the film. He also gets to work with a former cast-mate in Jesse Plemons, Landry from Friday Night Lights, who is also a bit of a wild card character here. Michael C. Hall and Danny Huston also deliver small but powerful roles as villains in the film. They are pretty small parts, but both make them memorable. They add just the right sudden turn just when you settle into one plot device or another. Malcolm X. Hughes provides one of the best but brief moments as a character who literally is not who you think he is. You’ll understand when you see it.
I think Game Night is going to be the first sleeper hit of the year. It’s not going to knock Black Panther of its throne, but it’s going to have some staying power in an otherwise weak season of releases. It’ll have some lasting power and is a pretty good date or friends-out movie. Yeah, it’s pretty much like a game night, and “it looks like the game is afoot”.