'Game Night' review: A trivial pursuit gets serious

Carla Harmon
February 25, 2018

Game Night isn't an action comedy, per se, in as much as it is a comedy that's produced as if it were an action thriller.

It works until it doesn't, with Game Night's insistence, like many other films confusingly do these days, that you take it seriously as a realistic-setting piece, until you have the characters operating on each other with bullet wounds on the street.

The film also follows the love-story between two unapologetically competitive gamers Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) who fall in love over their love for games.

I think it depends on the game. Fortunately, Ryan finally puts aside his propensity for dating bimbos and, in praise of older women, hooks up with Sarah (a wonderfully droll Sharon Horgan). Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury play Kevin and Michelle, together since middle school but not without a fling (hers) and its attendant, rampant, nattering jealousies (his). It's Bateman's exasperation that sells the scene, as does the dog, which up to this point has been arm candy for the Davises' police officer neighbor, Gary, played by Jesse Plemons (who, I swear, is in every movie that's come out in the past few months). The two big moments that stand out are when Annie, believing she is holding a fake gun, not realizing that the men she has taken the gun from are actual kidnappers, first lip synchs into it like a microphone, and then later sticks it in her mouth for a wacky photo.

Yet the pair may be disregarding this caveat with their next project, which will be the biggest of their careers to date: They will direct the 2020 superhero film Flashpoint, adapted from the popular DC Comics' character The Flash, with Ezra Miller in the title role. The grand prize goes to whoever finds the victim. Brooks tells everyone they'll be playing a murder mystery, but before it can begin, real thugs break in and kidnap Brooks. And they have to do it all by midnight.

Jason Bateman: "There are moments where you just instinctually try to be a better parent than your mate". There's no doubt Annie is the kind of person who doesn't take losing lightly and when she's forced into real life criminal acts, she gets a rush from the excitement.

Bateman brings his very familiar skill set to Max, making the character relatable and sympathetic despite the hyper-competitiveness.

As for McAdams: Other than being one of the most endearing and charming and natural and lovely actors around, she's doesn't have much going for her. It is pretty sharp comedy, until the writer (Mark Perez, of Lindsay Lohan's Herbie Fully Loaded fame), frustratingly returns to supposedly emotional analyses of midlife crises and middle class anxieties over mediocrity. Their storylines stay far too linear to give the film the additional layers that make a mystery more interesting. Packed with twists and razor-sharp pop culture references, the film excels at doubling twist upon twist, keeping you ever off-balance with stingingly amusing, joyously inappropriate jokes. In a more serious tone, he suggested having a competitive drive can be good because it shows that even when things go bad, there generally is something good to be found. It makes sense that they're the ones who would host a weekly game night for friends, and by the time we catch up with them, that institution has gone through several evolutions.

"Game Night" devises running gags throughout the movie and then comes up with ways to keep topping them so they don't get old. Most of the time that's simply down to the patter between its cast. While it's a formula that can be brilliant and/or fun (see: everything from "After Hours" to "Adventures in Babysitting"), recent efforts have seemed to result in features that feel more like extended Saturday Night Live sketches - a gimmick stretched far past its worth and padded with some auto chases and contrived heart. What if it all goes awry?

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