“Game Night” is a weird thing and watching it uncurl to reveal some semblance of an identity is one part fascinating and equal part frustrating. On one hand it’s a comedy with several hits and a handful of misses. But as its story unfolds a weirdly off-balanced action element surfaces that adds more blood and bullets but doesn’t always help the humor.
The creative duo of John Francis Daily and Jonathan Goldstein direct “Game Night” which is from a script by Mark Perez. The premise goes something like this: Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a perfect couple. They first met over a game of Trivial Pursuit and have held their own weekly game night since. Their usual guests include fellow married couple Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle Kylie (Bunbury), along with air-head Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and his fresh date-of-the-week.
Max’s good-looking and wildly successful older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) bulls into town and takes over game night for a week. Always looking to one-up his brother, Brooks stages an elaborate mystery game complete with role-playing, paid actors, and clues scattered across town. The first couple to solve the mystery gets the keys to his Corvette Sting Ray (which happens to be Max’s dream car).
Things get crazy when Brooks’ shady private life crosses paths with the game. Real thugs cross paths with fake ones and our not-so-bright players are caught in the middle. This obviously opens the door for the aforementioned action component which does tee the ball up for a couple of the film’s best scenes. A hysterical bullet removal sequence between McAdams and Bateman is a prime example. But the action, sometimes quite bloody, also clashes with the tone of other scenes.
Several other positives stood out. Jesse Plemons is the one consistently funny piece. He plays a stone-faced police officer and neighbor to Max and Annie. He’s found himself uninvited to the game nights due to his overtly weird and creepy personality. Plemons steals every scene he is in. I also can’t say enough about the comic timing of both Bateman and McAdams. Both work at just the right pitch and hold everything together even as things begin to unravel in the third act.
So “Game Night” has its moments. It’s only in the instances where Daily and Goldstein resort to their “Vacation” and “Horrible Bosses 2” days that the humor sours. But enough jokes land and its solid cast is committed enough to make this a fairly easy sell. Especially when compared to much of what passes as modern day comedy.
VERDICT – 3 STARS