Review: Game Night
John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (writers of Horrible Bosses, Spider-Man: Homecoming) manage to make their directorial follow-up to the ill-advised Vacation bearable, thanks to a committed ensemble, a smart-enough script, and the occasionally interesting visual style running throughout. Game Night’s greatest failure, though, is just how familiar it all feels.
Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a super-competitive couple who love games. They host a weekly game night, inviting their friends over to play anything from charades to the game of Life. To mix things up, Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes into town and promises a game night no one will soon forget. An interactive kidnap-mystery game becomes a real-life game with real stakes when Brooks actually gets kidnapped. Max, Annie, and their friends then spend the night trying to save Brooks and themselves from drug smugglers and crime syndicate bosses.
And yes, once the ground rules are laid out and once we start to question what’s a game and what’s real, Game Night is fairly reminiscent of David Fincher’s The Game, only with, you know, more jokes. Daley and Goldstein even ape some Fincher-esque visuals; they use the tilt-shift effect for establishing shots—à la The Social Network’s Henley Royal Regatta race, and there’s a camera move right out of Panic Room—a tilt up in a multi-story home where are heroes are running away from the bad guys. Hell, there’s even a whole sub-plot on the existence of real-life fight clubs. Even Edgar Wright’s fast cut, insert-laden transitions pop up here, too.
There are some innovations, though (and no, I’m not talking about the one-take sequence riddled with obvious ‘hidden cuts’). During the car chase sequences, the camera rig ominously stays in motion with the car its following, and a camera follows the motion of a lock being turned in a way I haven’t seen before—both of which would make Fincher smile, or furious he didn’t come up with them first. But, all in all, it feels like you’ve seen this before, mimicking the R-rated, Bateman-starring comedy we’re grown accustomed to.
The comedy in Game Night mostly comes from how incredibly stupid these players are. Sure, Billy Magnussen as Ryan, a blonde hunk, is the go-to dummy/joke repository, but the entire cast of characters is working on the same brain wavelength. It reaches Coens-level heights when Max gets shot and Annie has to Google a how-to on how to get a bullet out of the wound. Thankfully, this scene doesn’t just rely on the gross-out factor (there is a ton of blood and some great prosthetic work, though), as its punchline becomes the out-right idiocy of this couple. Believability flies out the window early on, so it’s best just to accept each dumb move as is—everyone falls into each plot device (sometimes literally) as they reach the game’s end.
The script, by Mark Perez, works in both meeting and slightly rising above expectations, and it ultimately makes for a serviceable affair. And besides for one out-right stupid moment (it involves Ed Norton, charades, and a movie that was named not a scene before), there’s not anything to hate about Game Night. If anything, we get a comedy that allows Rachel McAdams to shine and a kick-ass Cliff Martinez score, and if you’re looking for a safe, so-called-raunchy comedy, along the lines of The Hangover, Horrible Bosses, and Office Christmas Party, you can’t go wrong with Game Night.