Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a happily married couple who love games and share an overly-enthusiastic competitive spirit. This is a big part of what drew them together when they met as rival team captains at a pub trivia night as they both simultaneously answered the question “What is the name of the purple Teletubby?” (It’s Tinky Winky in case you were wondering.)
The pair infuse every possible aspect of their lives with games, from a dancing video game machine at their wedding to playing flick soccer while they wait for an appointment at a fertility clinic, where the consulting doctor explains that their inability to conceive a child might be a result of Max being stressed.
Max resists being pressed on the subject, arguing the female doctor is not a psychiatrist and unqualified to speak about matters of the mind.
But she’s on the right path as Max, who already feels stressed in day to day life as a result of his competitive nature, is suffering increased anxiety due to a pending visit from his brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler).
Brooks sounds so attractive that the fertility clinic doctor asks Max if his brother is available for a hook up while he is in town. It is the story of Max’s life. His better looking, more successful older brother beats him at everything, so the upcoming visit only reinforces his feelings of inadequacy.
Max & Annie host regular Game Nights at their home inviting couples Kevin and Michelle and their buddy Ryan and whatever “insta-model” he’s hooking up with that week. The couple’s next door neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemons) has recently split with is wife and is keen to be invited to the weekly Game Night. Reluctant to have him there as they were only ever friends with is wife, the couple lie to Gary insisting that they aren’t receiving guests in spite of the large grocery bag full of corn chips they are carrying.
The regular guests sneak in through a window to arrive undetected, however Brooks roars in to the street in a bright red sports car alerting Gary to the gathering.
It’s awkward scenes such as the interaction between the doctor and the couple or Gary and his neighbours that invigorate Game Night with an extra layer of comedy.
There’s physical comedy, funny dialogue and inappropriate humour that comes out of left field, so that any opportunity to go for a laugh, the filmmakers take it, and for the most part this works.
I laughed out loud at least two dozen times, as did the other viewers in my session.
Brooks invites the gang to a Game Night at the luxury home he’s rented nearby the following week, promising it will be a night to remember and delivers just that, with a murder-themed game that goes horribly wrong.
Mining situational comedies like Rough Night and Horrible Bosses, Game Night takes viewers in an unexpected direction when Brooks planned evening gets hijacked by criminals who abduct him violently, while the party guests assume it’s all part of the Game. Directed by the pair who wrote the two Horrible Bosses films and the most recent Spider-man film Homecoming – John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.
Screenwriter Mark Perez says he drew on some classic films for inspiration such as “the plot of Three Amigos, with Steve Martin,” he says, “when they think they’re doing a movie scene but actually El Guapo is there to kill them. And then Tropic Thunder is another where they think it’s a movie, but there are actually people out to kill them.”
The three couples embark on their own methods of solving the “crime” allowing each pairs dynamic to offer fresh comedic opportunities.
Ryan is a good looking young guy who has decided to forgo his usual choice of bimbo and bring along a smarter, older woman as his date with the aim of winning Game Night for once, while married childhood sweethearts Kevin & Michelle bicker over a revelation that Michelle slept with a celebrity.
Meanwhile Max & Annie set off in search of Brooks, quickly realising the “Game Night” is not what they initially thought it was. The story delivers a whole bunch of twists and turns, and at every opportunity looks for a way to illicit a laugh, almost always delivering.
Punchy three-shot montages help to keep the action going as characters cut celery, pour dip and serve corn chips to set the scene for one set-up, or grab common household items from a grocery store in another.
Cinematographer Barry Peterson has a wealth of experience in comedy films that also incorporate action, from 21 & 22 Jump Street to Central Intelligence and shows a skilful hand in capturing both the laughs and the frenetic pace of proceedings.
One excellent sequence has all the characters attempting to escape a heavily guarded mansion with a stolen item that they pass to one another like a football from floor to floor and room to room through a series of Escher like staircases and hallways.
The film also benefits from some neat usage of tilt-shift photography (aka miniature faking) that makes suburban streets look like they’re part of a board game.
This is a much stronger offering than many recent “action-comedies” and should really play well to big rooms on a Friday or Saturday night.
There are countless other little details that elevate this well above the average movie in the genre, and at many times the characters reference other films, demonstrating the writers appreciation for cinematic history.
Rachel McAdams note perfect rendition of Honey Bunny from the diner robbery scene from Pulp Fiction is priceless.
As a fan of the dramatic performances of Bateman in Ozark, McAdams in True Detective and Plemons in Breaking Bad, it is awesome to see these fine actors work with excellent material that gives big laughs.
“High Stakes Action Comedy is a Winner” – 3 & ½ Stars