While its trailer — and tired premise — incites more yawns than laughs, Game Night proves to be a far more impressive and clever movie than expected.
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) meet at trivia night at a bar and hit it off. They get married, and every weekend, they host a game night for their friends. One night, Max’s far more attractive and successful brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), shows up and promises them a murder-mystery game night they won’t forget.
Things start to spiral downward when the participants realize that the murder mystery is actually real and fraught with danger. Secrets are divulged and identities are questioned — and the film, with its borderline-slapstick comedy and action-packed scenes, never fails to excite.
The best part of Game Night, however, is the characters. Bateman has impeccable comedic timing that McAdams graciously reciprocates, and the two of them have the banter and refreshing depth of a husband and wife who are happy but still struggling with their own demons. Bateman and McAdams work well with the supporting cast, who successfully resist being sidelined as sidekicks, and their relationship with Gary (Jesse Plemons) is one for the books.
Looking like a younger, paler Matt Damon, Plemons is the star of the film. His character is experiencing some bumps in the road after his wife Debbie divorces him. As a consequence, Max and Annie stop inviting him to game night, but Gary makes a triumphant return with a trick up his sleeve that neither I nor the audience saw coming. Go Gary.
While the movie is a black comedy, it could also be considered a pseudo-action film. Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein don’t spend too much time on either genre, and the plot still runs smoothly; they present a wonderful duality that forces us to either cringe from the blood or sit at the edge of our seats — or both.
Of course, from a comedy standpoint, Game Night is not necessarily the smartest or funniest movie ever. It’s almost slapstick, which detracts from some of the better scenes. And the participants struggling to realize that this game night isn’t really a game was at times hard to watch.
Nevertheless, Bateman’s slick tongue, McAdams’ wit and Plemons’ creepiness propel the film from what at first looks like a disaster to a relatively clean 100 minutes that not only keeps us interested, but also makes us laugh more than once.