Movie Review: ‘Game Night’
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, and Kyle Chandler
Plot: A murder mystery game night is interrupted by a real kidnapping.
“Broad comedy” may be one of the hardest genres to excel in, specifically because almost any attempt to include a story within all the jokes could be perceived as diversifying enough to undermine the “broad” part of “broad comedy.” These types of comedies are simply movies that do everything in the name of getting a laugh and never lose sight of that agenda when it comes to wrapping stuff up. Lean too far into the love story and now you’re a rom-com. Lean too far into a detective story and now you’re a buddy cop movie. Assign enough identity and drama to your characters, and now you’re an indie darling dramedy. These distinctions might seem trivial, but they often make the ambition to get people laughing feel secondary to finishing the story.
Game Night comes very close to not being a broad comedy due to its overall premise. It features Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as Max and Annie, a hyper-competitive married couple who host a semi-regular couples game night, where no one seems to be turned off by their hyper-competitiveness. Max is a little off his game thanks to the intrusion of his super-cool brother Brooks, played by Kyle Chandler. Brooks has a fancy job that takes him around the world and makes him lots of money, and to add insult to injury, he shows up to game night driving Max’s dream car from when he was a kid.
Basically, Brooks wants to treat their usual group to a game night they will never forget. He hires a firm to break into the house and kidnap one of them, and the point of the game is to follow the clues and solve the mystery. Except Brooks job isn’t so legal. And real kidnappers enter the house before the fake ones have a chance to show up. Meanwhile, the group is none the wiser, eating dip, while Brooks gets beat up, tied up, and dragged out of his own house.
This might sound a lot like David Fincher’s 90s thriller, The Game, starring Michael Douglas as a fancy banker who is submitted to his own conspiracy game by his vindictive brother and starts to question how real it all is. The premise is very similar, but Game Night does well not to flirt too closely to outright spoofing it. The players and the conspiracy are completely different, and with the exception of a few extra clown doll head props in Game Night, I don’t think there is many overt references to the original thriller.
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein do get pretty sophisticated when it comes to the thriller aspects. For instance, there is one car chase that is simple but effective in the way that stripping it of bells and whistles makes it feel a little more realistic than your usual action movie. That is topped by a game of hot potato with a Faberge egg featuring the whole cast running around a swanky mansion. However, my favorite piece of production value is the number of establishing shots substituting a miniature model of the city for a real bird’s eye view and superimposing a real moving car onto the fake street, making it look as if the characters are actually pieces on a giant game board.
Daley and Goldstein are able to raise stakes and keep them feeling real all the while keeping the jokes fairly non-stop. Dropping mild-mannered suburbanites into criminal elements only seen on TV is pretty tried and true, and yet this movie proves there are still jokes to be wrung out of the concept. And when you have a cast with the likes of Jason Bateman, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, and Jesse Plemons, you know you are in good hands. Defying all expectations though, the runaway funniest member of the cast is Rachel McAdams. She has always had a likable presence when on screen, but I’ve never really thought of her as funny. She looks like she is having so much fun here, though. She has completely keyed into what makes Jason Bateman’s put-upon straight man routine work (which he continues to make work in this movie) but pivots it into a comic relief character: one that gets to be both wry-humored hero and plucky sidekick all at the same time.
Game Night is one of those admirable comedies that has no loftier goals than to make people laugh, at which it succeeds. It is also the kind of frilless early year release that is bound to be lost in the shuffle, and I think that is a little unfair. It is totally worth your time.